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Dozens Of NYC Landlords, Brokers Sued For Illegal Voucher Discrimination

Prospective NYC tenants have faced difficulty renting apartments using housing vouchers.

More than two dozen New York City landlords and real estate brokers are being sued for discriminating against renters trying to use housing vouchers to lease apartments.

The complaint, filed Tuesday in Manhattan Supreme Court, names 28 brokerage firms and entities that own apartments in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn and accuses them of illegally using "artificial and unnecessary” minimum income requirements to deny applications from low-income tenants hoping to use federal housing vouchers. The plaintiff in the suit is Housing Rights Initiative, a national nonprofit, and it was filed by attorneys with the Legal Aid Society.

CBS News first reported the lawsuit.

HRI claims the landlords ask for proof prospective tenants earn between 35 and 40 times the apartment’s annual rent. For a rent of $1,750 per month, for example, a tenant would be expected to earn $70K a year. This is legal in most cases — but not in the case of tenants with housing vouchers.

For housing voucher recipients, low-income New Yorkers who are heavily rent-burdened, annual salaries may not meet the minimum income requirements preferred by landlords. Vouchers still require residents to put as much as 40% of their annual incomes toward rent, but the remainder is paid by local and federal government agencies, allowing recipients greater ability to guarantee they can make rent.

The lawsuit argues minimum income preferences discriminate against New Yorkers receiving housing vouchers. The complaint further states that refusing to consider tenants with housing vouchers is illegal under state and city law. 

Landlords and brokers including Corcoran Group, M.E.I.T. Associates LLC and Partnership 92 West L.P. were among those cited in the complaint as allegedly refusing to rent apartments to New Yorkers holding housing vouchers.

The lawsuit stems from investigations by the nonprofit Housing Rights Initiative after legal organizations and community partners complained in 2017 that some landlords and brokers would not accept vouchers. 

In one allegation, a Corcoran representative told an HRI tester that even with a housing voucher, “you would still have to qualify … you would have to make 40 times the rent and credit qualify.” 

A representative from another landlord and broker named in the suit, Voro LLC, told an HRI tester that tenants were required to make 40 times the rent “to make sure you make enough to support yourself in the apartment.” When the HRI tester asked if that meant they wouldn’t be able to use a housing voucher, the representative said, “I don’t think so.”

The lawsuit comes at a sensitive time for housing vouchers in NYC. Despite the state’s current housing crisis, Gov. Kathy Hochul cut a proposal for a $250M housing voucher program from her budget, angering tenant advocates and rent-subsidized housing provider advocates like landlord group Community Housing Improvement Program.

Last month, CHIP told Bisnow it hopes more vouchers will be made available to New Yorkers, as it asks the Rent Guidelines Board to increase rent for stabilized apartments. 

New York is also having problems enforcing laws meant to prevent voucher discrimination. The NYC Human Rights Commission has been struggling since 2019 to staff its Source of Income Unit. The unit is charged with stopping landlords from discriminating against prospective tenants who plan to pay part of their rent with housing vouchers. But last month, City Limits reported, SOI’s final employee left.