It is illegal in New York City for landlords or real estate brokers to refuse to rent to current or prospective tenants with public assistance vouchers. Source of income discrimination has been illegal in NYC since 2008 when then Council Member Bill de Blasio sponsored a bill to make it a violation of the NYC Human Rights Law, one of the strongest city anti-discrimination laws in the nation.
Lawful source of income includes any federal, state, or local public or housing assistance towards the payment of rent, including Section 8, Living in Communities (LINC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy (FEPS), Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS), and Advantage program vouchers, among others. It is also unlawful for landlords and housing agents to publish any type advertisements, including online or print, that indicate a refusal to accept these programs.
How does the Commission fight source of income discrimination?
Under the de Blasio Administration, the NYC Commission on Human Rights has significantly increased enforcement of the City’s source of income discrimination protections and is aggressively investigating and prosecuting landlords and brokers of various sizes citywide who refuse to rent to tenants who pay rent with housing vouchers and other types of public assistance.
The Commission is currently investigating 230 cases of lawful source of income discrimination against landlords and brokers across the city.
In 2016, the Commission filed the highest number of lawful source of income discrimination investigations in Commission history with more than 120 cases filed.
The Commission's FY18 budget included funding for a new Source of Income Unit, which is currently being staffed. The Unit will add significant capacity to the Law Enforcement Bureau's existing enforcement and affirmative investigations into source of income discrimination.
The Commission revitalized its testing program in 2016 to root out discriminatory landlords and brokers, including matched pair testing which involves two individuals identical in every way except for having a housing voucher, who seek the same apartment from a landlord. The Commission:
Hired new testing staff to launch more than 300 lawful source of income discrimination tests in 2016;
Partnered with the Fair Housing Justice Center to conduct additional source of income discrimination testing;
Partnered with the Mayor’s Office for Data Analytics in 2016 to explore how the Commission can use data to enhance its testing program. Using data, MODA is helping Commission identify neighborhoods with low crime, great schools, lots of apartment buildings but where no voucher holders live so Commission can send testers. Read more here.
Increased public education:
The Commission has also significantly increased its public outreach efforts to inform New Yorkers about their housing rights under the law and prevent future acts of discrimination by training landlords on their obligations.
The Commission has held nearly 400 workshops and outreach events so far this year to educate tenants about their housing rights under the Law.
Engages housing advocates and City agencies, including the Fair Housing Justice Center, WIN-NY, Make the Road, New York Legal Assistance Group, African Services Committee, Urban Justice Center, Legal Services, Human Resources Administration, Department of Homeless Services, Department of Housing Preservation and Development, and NYC Housing Authority to address housing discrimination among vulnerable communities and inform people of their rights; and
Launched a citywide multilingual print and social media ad campaign, including installing posters across the city at grocery stores, laundromats, and nail and hair salons to educate New Yorkers on housing protections. This outreach effort reached millions and was done jointly with the Department of Housing Preservation and Development. So far, over 9,000 housing discrimination brochures created as part of this partnership have been distributed citywide.
How has the Commission gotten justice for people like me?
There are a number of examples of how the Commission has taken action against people and organizations committing lawful source of income discrimination.
In early 2017, the NYC Commission on Human Rights announced investigations against five landlords and brokers controlling 20,000 units citywide for repeatedly discriminating against prospective tenants based on their lawful source of income. The complaints, which the Commission filed on behalf of the City, followed investigations proactively conducted by the Commission and were the results of tips from prospective tenants and positive tests out of Commission’s testing program. (press release here)
In July 2017, the Commission settled a case involving source of income discrimination by Interactive Realty which refused to show a tenant an apartment because they had a LINC voucher. The Commission negotiated a $15,000 settlement, including $7,500 in emotional distress damages to the victim and $7,500 in civil penalties.
In June 2017, the Commission fined broker North Bronx Partners, LLC, $50,000 in civil penalties for repeatedly refusing to accept tenants with Section 8 vouchers. The Commission also ordered the broker, which owns 90 buildings, to train staff on the NYC Human Rights Law, include a Notice of Rights in all tenant applications and lease renewals, and requiring them to submit bi-annual reports for two years listing all applicants who had a voucher and were not accepted for an apartment, and the reason for the denial.
In March 2016, the Commission issued its highest civil penalty in Commission history in a source of income discrimination case, fining management company Best Apartments Inc. $100,000 in civil penalties for refusing to show a prospective tenant an apartment after he revealed he had a Section 8 voucher. (see decision here)
Also in 2016, the Commission fined a brokerage firm who discriminated against a man with a HASA voucher $5,000 for refusing to take his voucher and ordered them to revamp their policies and train employees on the law.
Read below a selection of media clips on the work of the Commission in this area:
What do I do if I experience lawful source of income discrimination?
If you experience lawful source of discrimination, we can help. Report it to the NYC Commission on Human Rights by dialing 311 and asking for 'Human Rights', calling 718-722-3131 to contact the Commission directly, or use our Report Discrimination form to inform our Law Enforcement Bureau that you would like to get started on reporting your experience.
For more information about Fair Housing, visit NYC.gov/fhnyc or call 311.