NEW YORK, NY — Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today 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. 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.
“Turning away individuals from an apartment based on a lawful source of income is a blatant form of discrimination,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Everyone deserves a fair shot at renting an apartment in New York—especially during a time when many are struggling to find affordable housing. We will not let unscrupulous companies create unlawful barriers to renters, and my office is committed to ensuring that everyone is treated equally under the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income.”
“New York is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, and programs like Section 8 are critical tools to keep hardworking families living in our City,” said Scott M. Stringer, New York City Comptroller. “These companies essentially told New Yorkers ‘no Section 8 residents need apply,’ mirroring decades of discrimination against our City’s most vulnerable residents. The settlements announced today by Attorney General Schneiderman send a clear message that these unlawful actions have no place in New York.”
“New Yorkers face so many hurdles finding affordable housing, and discrimination against source of income should not, and will not, be one of them,” said New York City Public Advocate Letitia James. “I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his investigation to hold these firms accountable for keeping tenants from homes they are entitled to. We will never stop fighting to ensure that every New Yorker has a safe and decent home.”
In 2014, the Attorney General reached agreements with three NYC real estate brokers and two Buffalo landlords for discrimination against prospective tenants who received government assistance.
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.
All companies have agreed to certain reforms, including:
Forwarding the OAG any complaints and documentation about housing discrimination
Developing new non-discriminatory policies
Maintaining rental information about certain properties to provide to OAG for review to ensure compliance with the law
Douglas Elliman and Crifarsi have also agreed to have their employees attend a Fair Housing training program.
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, [email protected] or visit www.ag.ny.gov.