Attorney General James Stops Real Estate Company Compass from Denying Housing to Low-Income New Yorkers

Compass Agents told Tenants with Housing Vouchers They Could Not Apply for Apartment Listings 

AG James’ Second Action this Week to Protect New Yorkers from Housing Discrimination

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James reached an agreement with real estate brokerage, Compass Inc. (Compass), to protect low-income tenants. The Office of the Attorney General (OAG), with assistance from the Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), found that Compass real estate agents refused to process rental applications from low-income tenants in Manhattan because they had a Section 8 voucher, a violation of New York’s laws that protect tenants against source of income discrimination. Under New York law, a lawful source of income for housing includes any form of federal, state, or local housing assistance, including Section 8 vouchers. As a result of today’s agreement, Compass is required to waive any broker fees for the first 25 applicants with Section 8 vouchers, update its employee trainings, and post signage that they accept housing assistance vouchers.

“Landlords and brokers who deny housing to tenants because of their source of income are exacerbating the housing crisis,” said Attorney General James. “No tenant should be turned away from an apartment because they have a housing voucher. This agreement will ensure that Compass does not close its door on New Yorkers who are simply looking for a place to call home. My office will continue taking action to protect New Yorkers from unfair housing practices and hold those violating the law accountable.”

Government-issued rental vouchers, such as the Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program, provide housing assistance to the lowest income households in New York to rent or purchase decent, safe housing in the private housing market. These programs also aid senior citizens and disabled persons on fixed incomes, displaced families, and homeless individuals with disabilities.

In December 2021, OAG, based on information provided by HRI, opened an investigation into whether Compass agents discriminated against potential tenants because they had housing assistance vouchers. Compass agents allegedly told them that the property owners, in the Manhattan neighborhoods of Hell’s Kitchen and the Upper East Side, would not accept their rental applications because of the applicants’ intention to use Section 8 vouchers. City and state laws prohibit owners, landlords, property managers, and rental agents from refusing to accept potential tenants solely because they receive lawful housing assistance.

As a result of today’s agreement, Compass will not charge brokerage fees for the first 25 applicants who apply using a federal HCV through a Compass listing or agent and will notify local public housing authorities about these waivers. Additionally, to incentivize its real estate sales staff to accept applicants with housing vouchers, the agreement requires Compass to pay its agents 90 percent of the broker commission if a tenant with HCV is accepted into an apartment.

The agreement also requires Compass to review its training materials and take steps to ensure its agents are aware they cannot reject applicants who use rental assistance programs and that applicants using such programs cannot be subject to income or credit score requirements. Compass must also post signs in all public-facing New York offices indicating that they accept Section 8 vouchers and other rental assistance.

"Today's settlement with one of the largest real estate companies is an important step to ending widespread housing discrimination and protecting vulnerable tenants in New York," said Aaron Carr, Founder and Executive Director of Housing Rights Initiative. "Denying housing to tenants just because they have a housing voucher is not only illegal, but also inhumane. I thank Attorney General James and her team for everything they do to protect tenants and taxpayers." 

“It is shameful for any landlord or brokerage to deny good-faith tenants apartments, especially in today’s housing crisis," said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. "Thank you to Attorney General James for forcefully reminding the real estate industry that housing discrimination will not be tolerated in New York. New Yorkers deserve better than housing assistance-in-name-only, and this agreement underscores that no tenant can be denied housing on the basis of their use of federal, state, or local housing assistance vouchers.”

“Discrimination against tenants based on their use of a rental assistance voucher is not just immoral; it’s illegal,” said New York City Council Member Erik Bottcher. “Fortunately New Yorkers have Attorney General Letitia James watching their back. I’m grateful to Attorney General James and her team for ensuring that no form of discrimination is allowed in our state.”

“Real estate brokers that violate income discrimination laws by refusing to process rental applications involving housing assistance vouchers will be held accountable," said New York City Council Member Julie Menin. "Our city is going through an affordable housing crisis and it’s unconscionable to automatically reject low-income applicants. I applaud Attorney General Letitia James for investigating discrimination against potential tenants.”

This settlement is part of Attorney General James’ ongoing efforts to protect tenants from source of income discrimination where she is partnering with local organizations, including HRI. Earlier this week, Attorney General James sued an Ithaca landlord for denying housing to low-income tenants.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorney General Matthew Eubank of the Brooklyn Regional Office, Assistant Attorney General Jane Landry-Reyes of the Housing Protection Unit, and Assistant Attorney General Joe Marrero of the Civil Rights Bureau. The Brooklyn Regional Office is led by Assistant Attorney General in Charge Michael Barbosa and is part of the Division of Regional Affairs, which is led by Deputy Attorney General Jill Faber. The Housing Protection Unit is led by Chief Brent Meltzer. Both the Housing Protection Unit and the Civil Rights Bureau are part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux. The Division of Regional Affairs and the Division of Social Justice are overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.