VOUCHER USER TOLD “I DON’T WANT YOU TO COME HERE”
The Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced today that it has filed a lawsuit in New York State Supreme Court alleging source of income discrimination at The Westleigh, a six-story building located at 84-09 35th Avenue in Queens containing approximately 84 apartments. The defendants are building owner/manager Westleigh Co. LLC; Beaudoin Realty Group, Inc.; and licensed real estate agents Stephanie Beaudoin and Michele Beaudoin.
The lawsuit stems from an investigation conducted by the FHJC in October and November 2021, in which undercover testers posing as renters contacted Beaudoin Realty to inquire about an available apartment in the Westleigh that was listed online.
Testers who claimed to derive their income solely from employment were met with enthusiasm. The agent eagerly responded to emails and texts, scheduled viewings, and encouraged the testers to submit applications for the unit.
By contrast, testers who stated they would be using a Housing Choice Voucher (commonly referred to as “Section 8”) to pay their rent were met with resistance and discourtesy. Although the rent was well within voucher limits, and the voucher would cover the security deposit and broker’s fee, the agent repeatedly claimed to have “no idea” whether Westleigh would “accept” the voucher, and avoided repeated calls and text messages from the testers with vouchers. These testers’ credit scores, despite being equivalent to the credit scores of the testers with income solely from employment, were scrutinized and disparaged. One tester with a voucher who managed to secure a tentative viewing appointment before informing the agent about their voucher was later flatly told: “I don’t want you to come here.”
“Source of income discrimination has been unlawful in New York City since 2008 and statewide since 2019,” stated FHJC Legal Coordinator Madhulika Murali. “A blanket policy of ‘not taking Section 8’ is illegal, and for Westleigh or any real estate brokerage to claim ignorance of a landlord’s willingness to accept applications from people who use rental subsidies is unacceptable. It’s time for these laws to be taken seriously and enforced vigorously.”
“Voucher programs are an essential tool for combatting the extreme housing shortage in New York and across the nation,” added FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman. “But a voucher is useless when landlords and real estate agents continue to flout fair housing laws. This illegal behavior causes real harm to individuals and families simply trying to find a decent place to live.”
The lawsuit seeks compensatory and punitive damages as well as injunctive relief to stop the source of income discrimination.
The FHJC is represented by Ali Frick and Adam Strychaluk of the law firm Kaufman Lieb Lebowitz & Frick, LLP.
The mission of 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.