A lawsuit against 88 New York City real estate firms and landlords alleging rampant housing discrimination towards prospective tenants attempting to use Section 8 housing vouchers was filed Monday in federal court.

The lawsuit, which was filed by the Legal Aid Society and names large real estate companies like Compass, Corcoran Group and Century 21, as well as smaller landlords and brokers, is a result of the findings of a far-reaching undercover investigation by the watchdog group, Housing Rights Initiative (HRI).

In order to expose illegal discriminatory practices, HRI investigators recorded hundreds of phone calls posing as prospective tenants with housing vouchers. The lawsuit claims that nearly half of all cases recorded under the investigation were denied. It is against the law in New York state for landlords or brokers to deny an applicant due to  a housing voucher.

The findings of the investigation were announced in partnership with U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez, whose district covers parts of Brooklyn and lower Manhattan, who said she would reintroduce legislation banning discrimination based on voucher usage.

“Our goal here is simple: it is to get real estate companies to abandon their discriminatory housing practices and to follow the damn law,” HRI Executive Director Aaron Carr said at a press conference Monday. “This investigation didn’t target any one real estate company, it targeted an entire real estate sector.”

“Housing discrimination is exacerbating racial and economic segregation,” Carr continued. The investigation found that discrimination was particularly pronounced in higher income, white neighborhoods. The majority of section 8 renters in New York City are Black and Latino.

Aaron Carr of Housing Rights Initiative at Monday’s press conference. Photo: screenshot.

For Nancy Padilla, a section 8 tenant who spent two decades living in city shelters, the lawsuit reflects her experience. Padilla said discrimination kept her trapped in the shelter system. 

“Every time a landlord or broker saw my voucher their whole face expression changed. Immediately they turned me away even though I passed the background check and credit check,” she said.

Ms. Padilla, who said that she lost hundreds of dollars in apartment application fees, was finally able to find housing using a section 8 voucher recently.

Nancy Padilla at Monday’s press conference. Photo: screenshot.

Still, the damaging effects will not be something she forgets. “Being discriminated against over and over and being rejected puts a toll on a person who is trying,” she said. “I hope this lawsuit can stop anyone else from having to experience what I experienced.”

The section 8 program was founded in 1978 and provides housing vouchers to over 125,000 households in New York City. Recipients usually pay about 30 percent of their monthly income towards rent, with the remaining balance covered by the voucher. 

An essential detail is that vouchers expire after 120 days. Discrimination causes prolonged apartment searches, which can in turn cause families to lose their access to rental assistance altogether. 

Carr noted that families who are unable to use their vouchers are forced to use a higher percentage of their income on rent and less on food. He said that on average, families who are able to use vouchers spend up to 40% more on food.

The lawsuit is calling for unspecified monetary damages and an end to discriminatory practices in New York City.

“This investigation will go down as one of the most comprehensive investigations into real estate discrimination since the enactment of the fair housing act,” said Carr. “And we are only getting started.”

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Jackson Ferrari Ibelle

Jackson Ferrari Ibelle is a Providence, RI native who has lived in Crown Heights since 2019. He is a Northeastern University graduate and splits his time between writing for BK Reader and working as a...

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  1. These realtors told me the same thing for years for starters the realtors want they Money upfront and with programs they have to wait for inspection to pass before they get paid which is not fair and also landlords don’t want to accept as they are required to do repairs at a certain time or they won’t get their rent check there’s a lot of slum landlords that work on their time to fix things and still want rent every month so all landlords should get their rent held until repairs are done it’s so sad that they don’t realize the programs are guaranteed money every month where they have tenants paying no rent and can’t kick them out after 30 days which are squatters now and they will be given time by courts to move

  2. god forbid you publish a link to the complaint, or publish a list of the real estate firms involved. Then this might actually be informative to people who aren’t well-off and white.

  3. I am currently in search of an apartment in Manhattan. I have a section 8 voucher as well I am fully employed with a disability. I recently applied for a couple of apartments but I’m being discriminated against by landlords. Please help.

  4. I’m Nicole from the Bronx, I am experiencing the same problem as we speak. I found a lovely apartment on Bryon Ave here in the Bronx back on March 8, 2021. I explained to the broker upfront I have a working CVR NY section 8 voucher he proceeded to showed me the apartment and took my voucher and moving packet with the promise to have it filled out and sent back to me by the next day. The broker reach out to me and said the landlord had to speak with her children regarding the matter of section 8. Then Mr. Bronwn called to tell me the landlord won’t honor my voucher. Erroll Brown never returned my calls Ceo of Gypsy Realty. There have been hundreds of others I have called and experience the same discrimination whereas landlords just don’t want to accept section 8 as if it is a plague or something. We are good, hardworking people who still want and need a decent place to live with our families.

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