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Post date: June 23 2016

A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlements With Two Real Estate Companies For Unlawful Housing Discrimination

Investigation Found Discrimination By Two Real Estate Brokerage Companies Against Victims Of Domestic Violence Seeking To Use Rental Assistance Vouchers

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that his office reached settlement agreements with two real estate brokerage firms for engaging in discrimination against prospective New York City tenants using rental assistance vouchers. An investigation into Lori & Associates LI Realty Inc. (Lori & Associates) and Rapid Realty Bedford Stuyvesant (RBS) found that both companies discriminated against potential New York City applicants with Living In Communities (“LINC”) III rental assistance vouchers. The LINC III voucher program was instituted by the New York City Department of Homeless Services and Human Resources Administration to assist homeless victims of domestic violence in securing safe housing.  New York City law prohibits discrimination in housing on the basis of lawful source of income, which includes government vouchers as well as any legitimate occupation.

“My office is committed to protecting domestic violence victims and eliminating source of income discrimination,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “Victims of domestic violence face unspeakable hardships in every aspect of their personal lives. Our hope is that these agreements will help to alleviate the burden on domestic violence survivors trying to find a safe place to live — especially in the midst of New York’s affordable housing crisis. Discrimination against some the most vulnerable residents has no place in New York State.”

In 2013, the Attorney General’s Office launched a statewide initiative to combat source of income discrimination and test compliance with source of income discrimination laws.  After reports that many landlords in New York City were refusing to accept prospective tenants holding LINC III vouchers, the OAG conducted undercover phone testing to determine whether individuals attempting to use LINC III vouchers were being denied housing in New York City. Undercover testers asked real estate brokerage firms if they could use LINC vouchers to rent listed apartments. The OAG found that a representative from Lori & Associates told the undercover phone tester on two calls that an apartment listed as available was not accepting any “programs” at this time, referring to government vouchers. The OAG also found that a representative from RBS told undercover testers that she did not handle applicants with government vouchers, and had nothing available for individuals with LINC vouchers. The representative told the testers that they would receive a call back from an agent who handled government vouchers, but the testers never received a call. The OAG conducted two follow-up tests and the result was the same.

The OAG also found that Lori & Associates had no written anti-discrimination policies. RBS had a written policy that prohibited source of income discrimination and conducted training for its agents, yet failed to monitor its Agents’ compliance with source of income laws to prevent or remedy unlawful source of income discrimination.

Today’s agreements will strengthen protections against housing discrimination based on source of income in New York. As part of the agreement, both agencies have agreed to certain reforms, including:

  • Complying fully with the obligations, terms, and conditions of governing source of income discrimination laws
  • Developing new non-discriminatory policies
  • Forwarding the OAG any complaints and documentation about housing discrimination
  • Maintaining rental information about certain properties  for OAG review to ensure compliance with the law
  • Providing notice to the public of Nondiscrimination Policies

Attorney General Schneiderman is committed to enforcing the laws that prohibit source of income discrimination and to protecting the rights of domestic violence victims and survivors.

The OAG has also recently secured settlement agreements with three real estate brokerage firms denying prospective tenants using Section 8 vouchers operating in New York City, Nassau County, and Westchester County.

“Today’s settlement sends a clear message to bad actors all over New York City whose bigoted, discriminatory standards have fed the cycle of homelessness that they will be held accountable. Source of income discrimination is just one of many pervasive impediments that Win clients, and all homeless New Yorkers, routinely face as they fight to transition to permanent housing. I stand with thousands of homeless families to thank Attorney General Schneiderman for taking bold, decisive on this often-overlooked issue. Only by removing barriers like these can we ensure that every family in New York City has a chance break the cycle of homelessness once and for all," said Christine Quinn, President and CEO of Win.

“When housing providers refuse to consider tenants with rental subsidies, they not only limit the housing choices available to some of the most vulnerable populations in New York, but they reinforce existing patterns of concentrated poverty and residential segregation. We commend the Attorney General for his pro-active efforts to ensure that laws prohibiting source of income discrimination are enforced,” said Fred Freiberg, Executive Director of Fair Housing Justice Center

Kelly Coyne, Safe Horizon’s VP of Domestic Violence Shelterssaid, “Safe Horizon operates the largest domestic violence shelter program in New York City. Each year, these safe havens provide temporary housing to more than 850 survivors of domestic violence and their 1,100 children after escaping an abusive situation. One of the most important goals for our clients is to get stable housing. However, survivors have often spent years earning little or no income, or their abusers have prevented them from having access to money for their own use. This is why vouchers like LINC III are so critically important to help domestic violence survivors obtain housing that would otherwise be unaffordable. Yet it has been well-documented that many landlords refuse to accept these vouchers, and will often make unreasonable demands regarding client income and credit scores. We are appreciative to those landlords who have embraced our clients through this program and applaud the Attorney General’s Office for their efforts to ensure that all landlords do the right thing and accept these vouchers.”

According to Safe Horizon, one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetimes. Last October, marking the 28th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights and Labor Bureaus issued the  “Victims of Domestic Violence: Know Your Rights!” brochure.” The guide is intended to raise awareness among victims and survivors of domestic violence about the laws that protect them. The guide highlights some of the legal protections and services available to victims of domestic violence -- particularly in the areas of employment and housing.  To file complaints of discrimination faced by domestic violence victims and survivors, contact the Attorney General’s Office at 212-416-8250 or Civil.Rights@ag.ny.gov.

The investigation is being handled by Assistant Attorneys General Diane Lucas and Najah Farley, and Volunteer Assistant Attorney General Joseph Abboud, under the direction of the Deputy Labor Bureau Chief ReNika N. Moore, Civil Rights Bureau Chief Lourdes Rosado. The Executive Deputy for Social Justice is Alvin Bragg.

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