NEW FHJC COMPLAINT ALLEGES VOUCHER DISCRIMINATION
Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced it has filed a complaint at the New York State Division of Human Rights alleging source of income discrimination at eight apartment buildings in Brooklyn, comprising over 50 rental units. The respondents are real estate brokerage firm Urban Pads, LLC along with licensed brokers Sarah Roumani, Lev Alperowitz, and Levi Cohen.
The complaint stems from a 2022 investigation performed by the FHJC after receiving a complaint from an individual who had contacted Urban Pads to inquire about a Brooklyn apartment that Urban Pads had listed on StreetEasy. According to the complaint, broker Roumani asked the individual about their income and credit score, and then cut off communication when they informed her they would be using a Section 8 voucher. Housing providers in New York City have been prohibited from discriminating against holders of rental subsidy vouchers since 2008.
The FHJC conducted a series of tests in which undercover testers posing as potential tenants made inquiries about Urban Pads apartments in Brooklyn. According to the complaint, all the testers were asked up front about their income and credit score. Those testers who claimed their income was derived solely from employment were all met with enthusiasm and shown available apartments. Several of these testers were also provided with information on additional listings, and one tester was even given the lockbox code to view an apartment on their own when the broker was unavailable, but only after again confirming their income and credit score.
By contrast, the complaint alleges that testers who claimed they would be using rental subsidy vouchers were immediately ghosted by the Urban Pads brokers, despite having excellent credit scores and despite the fact that the voucher payments were guaranteed and would more than cover the rent. Several of these testers made repeated follow-up attempts to contact Urban Pads, but their requests went unanswered.
As further evidence of Urban Pads’ pattern of discriminatory behavior, the complaint alleges, the FHJC was contacted months after the investigation by an additional individual with a rental voucher who received similar treatment from Urban Pads in connection with three more of their StreetEasy listings.
The complaint also states that the non-profit organization Unlock NYC, which is dedicated to making the apartment search process transparent, fair, and free from discrimination for all New Yorkers, received complaints from at least seven individuals with housing subsidy vouchers who were subjected to ghosting by Urban Pads between May 2022 and July 2023.
“Ghosting or otherwise ignoring applicants who use vouchers is an assault on their dignity,” stated FHJC Legal Coordinator Madhulika Murali. “It’s time for housing providers to accept the reality that the law requires them to work with all qualified applicants.”
“Refusing to assist or work with people who have vouchers or government rental assistance is not only a violation of established law — it widens the already large divide between the haves and have nots in this City. It has to stop,” stated attorney Daniel Mullkoff. Mr. Mullkoff and Mariann Meier Wang with the law firm Cuti Hecker Wang LLP are representing the FHJC.
The complaint alleges violations of the New York State Human Rights Law, as well as comparable New York City law. The full complaint can be read HERE.
The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.