Landlords’ Rental Ads Illegal

 Two landlords in Buffalo, New York have agreed to settle allegations that their rental policies, including several ads placed on Craigslist, were discriminatory.

New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the settlements this week. According to Schneiderman’s office, the landlords violated city and state prohibitions against denying housing based on source of income. These laws cover tenants who receive government vouchers as well as tenants in specific occupations.

“Discrimination comes in many forms, but denying a home to someone because they receive government assistance is one of the most insidious, having a disproportionate effect on black and Hispanic individuals,” Schneiderman said.

The city ordinance went into effect in 2006. New York City’s regulation went into effect in 2008, following efforts by Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Public Advocate Letitia James when they were members of the New York City Council.

Schneiderman says his office last year received complaints from the public of systemic discrimination against voucher holders. That prompted an investigation landlords and real estate brokers across New York to evaluate compliance with regulations prohibiting discrimination based on source of income.

That investigation, which is ongoing, has so far resulted in five settlements, three against real estate agents, and the case against the two landlords.

The two landlords owned and managed five apartments, and eight apartments respectively. The investigation found that in at least one undercover test, one landlord informed an undercover investigator seeking to rent an apartment that he would not accept government subsidies. Several Craigslist advertisements published the restriction, including at least 11 that said, “Private pay only”, “no Government Assistance; and no “Public Funds for Rent.” The Attorney General’s investigation found that this landlord had not rented to any individuals using government subsidies in the last three years.

The second Buffalo-area landlord informed an undercover tester that he would not accept Section 8 vouchers as payment for rent at any of his units. Advertisements posted online asserted that he did not accept government subsidies.

One of the realty firms  investigated failed to respond to multiple inquiries by prospective tenants who inquired about using government vouchers to rent their listed apartments.

One landlord told a newspaper reporter that he was not aware his actions were illegal.

Source of income is not protected in every state.  However, studies have shown that discrimination against Section 8 voucher holders is most likely if the recipient is African-American or Latino. Women are particularly affected, and, as of last year, female-headed households accounted for 76% of all government vouchers issued in New York.

The landlords have agreed to:

Modify their policies to prevent future discrimination;
Conduct employee training;
Preserve records of any complaints related to source-of-income discrimination;
Provide periodic reports to the Attorney General’s Office to ensure compliance with the law; and
Pay $5,000 each as a penalty.

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