Saturday, June 04, 2016

NY AG Uses Fair Housing Testers To Squeeze $88K Out Of Three Downstate Real Estate Brokerages To Resolve Allegations Of Housing Discrimination Against Tenants Receiving Section 8 Housing Subsidies; One Agent Admits Use Of Purported Months-Long Waiting List To Discourage (& Essentially Reject) Unwanted Rental Prospects

From the Office of the New York Attorney General:
  • Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced [] that his office has secured settlement agreements with three real estate brokerage firms operating in New York City, Nassau County, and Westchester County, following investigations that revealed unlawful housing discrimination against potential applicants with Section 8 housing vouchers.(1)

    Local regulations prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of lawful source of income, a category that includes government vouchers as well any legitimate occupation.(2)
    ***
    In 2015, the office received a complaint that Empire State Equities, which manages properties throughout Manhattan and the Bronx, rejected a prospective tenant with a Section 8 voucher. The individual was initially told that Empire would not accept “programs,” but when told that such a denial was unlawful discrimination, Empire claimed that it would accept Section 8, but said that there was a months-long waitlist for the apartment.

    The Attorney General’s office then conducted undercover phone tests, asking if Section 8 vouchers would be accepted by Empire. Each time, the testers were told they would be put on a waiting list that ranged from three to four months. Meanwhile, testers who called about the same properties but did not mention Section 8 were told that the units were immediately available. The Attorney General’s office then took testimony from the manager of Empire, who explained that a waitlist was essentially used to reject unwanted prospective tenants.

    The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) also conducted compliance testing to determine if Douglas Elliman and Crifasi Real Estate engaged in unlawful housing discrimination. Douglas Elliman has over 70 offices in the country, including several that list properties in Nassau County, while Crifasi lists properties in both Westchester and New York City.

    The OAG found that representatives from both companies twice told undercover testers that Section 8 and other government assistance programs would not be accepted at certain properties. The OAG also discovered that Crifasi had no written policy for employees regarding compliance with fair housing rules. Douglas Elliman had a written policy that prohibited source of income discrimination and related training for its employees, yet several listings in Nassau County nonetheless indicated that “current employment” was required for tenants.
    ***
    Crifasi will pay a $40,000 fine to New York State, Douglas Elliman will pay $35,000, and Empire will pay a $13,000 penalty.

    The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office is committed to promoting fair housing policies and combating discrimination faced by all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.govor visit www.ag.ny.gov.
Source: A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlements With Three Real Estate Companies For Unlawful Housing Discrimination (Attorney General’s Investigation Identified Evidence Of Systemic Discrimination Against Tenants Seeking To Use Section 8 Vouchers By Three Companies, Including Douglas Elliman, Fourth Largest Real Estate Company In The Country).

Go here for the Spanish version of the press release.
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(1) In 2014, the Attorney General also reached agreements with three NYC real estate brokers and two Buffalo landlords for discrimination against prospective tenants who received government assistance.

(2) It should be noted that the State of New York apparently still does not have a statewide law prohibiting housing discrimination based on a tenant's source of legal income. These cases involved the enforcement of fair housing ordinances passed by local municipalities (New York City, Nassau County, Westchester County). The City of Buffalo is another major municipality in New York State that has passed a similar fair housing ordinance.

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