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On April 6, 2023, Housing Rights Initiative (HRI), a national housing watchdog group, filed a discrimination suit against 12 real estate companies, including Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Laffey International and Coldwell Banker American Homes, formerly known as Century 21 American Homes. This lawsuit is the result of an investigation conducted by HRI. HRI assembled a team of undercover investigators to present as Section 8 voucher recipients. Those investigators scoured real estate listing websites for voucher eligible apartments and proceeded to call the brokers and landlords of those apartments on a recorded phone line to see if they would accept the vouchers as they are required to do so by law. In many instances, real estate companies and brokers discriminated against HRI’s undercover investigators. In this blog post, we will discuss what Section 8 housing vouchers are and how HRI is fighting to address the issue of housing discrimination.  

Section 8 housing vouchers are a form of government-assisted housing. The program is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and its purpose is to provide low-income families with safe and affordable housing. The program enables families to rent from private landlords, and HUD pays a portion of the rent directly to the landlord. This program is vital in helping low-income families afford housing, and it ensures that they can have access to a range of housing options.  

Despite the benefits of the Section 8 program, many landlords and real estate companies discriminate against tenants with vouchers. This discrimination takes many forms, including refusing to accept vouchers, setting excessively high-income requirements, and placing onerous screening requirements on tenants with vouchers. These actions make it difficult for families with vouchers to find safe and affordable housing, and they perpetuate cycles of poverty and housing insecurity.  

HRI’s lawsuit aims to hold real estate companies accountable for their discrimination against tenants with vouchers. “This lawsuit against a dozen real estate companies doesn’t just expose housing discrimination in Long Island, but a lack of housing enforcement in New York State,” said Aaron Carr, Founder and Executive Director of Housing Rights Initiative. “The New York State Department of State should deal with the systematic issue of housing discrimination by systematically revoking the brokers’ licenses of those who engage in it.”  

Real estate agents, brokers, and realtors all have a vital role to play in combating housing discrimination. It is crucial that they educate themselves about fair housing laws and uphold these laws in their business practices. They must ensure that all tenants, regardless of their income or voucher status, are treated with dignity and respect. The real estate industry has a responsibility to support and work with organizations like HRI to end housing discrimination and create a more just and equitable housing system. 

Housing discrimination is a persistent problem that affects the lives of millions of Americans. As real estate agents, brokers, and realtors, we have a responsibility to ensure that fair housing laws are upheld and that all tenants are treated with dignity and respect. 

To view the complaint filed in Supreme Court of the State of New York County of Nassau click here.