A.G. Schneiderman Announces Settlements With Three NYC Real Estate Brokers And Two Buffalo Landlords Prohibiting Discrimination Against Tenants Who Receive Government Assistance

The Attorney General’s Fair Housing Investigation Identified Evidence Of Systemic Discrimination Against Tenants Seeking To Use Vouchers, Other Forms Of Government Assistance

Schneiderman: Local Regulations Forbid Housing Providers From Refusing To Accept Government Vouchers

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced today that his office has secured settlement agreements with three real estate brokerage firms in New York City and two landlords in Buffalo ensuring that tenants are not denied their right to use government assistance. Both Buffalo and New York City regulations prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of lawful source of income, a category that includes government vouchers as well any legitimate occupation. Attorney General Schneiderman’s office is committed to upholding these regulations to ensure that all New Yorkers have equal access to housing. 

“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. No one should be turned away from an apartment based on a lawful income source, and we will continue to fight to ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “Today’s settlements will ensure that many more aspiring homeowners – from Buffalo to New York City – will have a fair shot at a home and that their rights will be protected.”

Buffalo’s 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.  

New York City Public Advocate Letitia Jamessaid, “All renters deserve equal access to housing opportunities in our city regardless of their source of income. While on the City Council, I helped secure passage of the Source of Income Discrimination Law, and I look forward to working with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to eliminate this kind of discrimination.”

"Housing remains one of the most important issues for New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet, and no one should be turned away from a potential home simply because they are receiving government assistance," said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. "I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for fighting on behalf of a vulnerable population who may otherwise face unjust housing discrimination in New York City and all across the state."

City of Buffalo Council President Darius G. Pridgensaid, “Source of income discrimination has a disparate impact on the most vulnerable members of our community. I thank the Attorney General for working to eradicate this discrimination to ensure that all residents in Buffalo enjoy equal access to housing opportunities.” 

Council Member Jumaane D. Williams (D-Brooklyn), Deputy Leader, Chair of the City Council’s Housing and Buildings Committee,said, “Too often, source-of-income has proven to be a pretext for race discrimination, and I have been a vocal advocate to end this disparity. We cannot turn a blind eye to the barriers that people face when seeking affordable housing in our City.  I want to applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership in fighting on behalf of some of our city’s most vulnerable communities while using New York City’s Source of Income Discrimination Law to ensure equal access to rental opportunities.”

Last year, after receiving complaints from the public of systemic discrimination against voucher holders, Attorney General Schneiderman’s Civil Rights Bureau launched an investigation to determine whether landlords and real estate brokers across New York were complying with regulations prohibiting discrimination based on source of income. The investigation, which is ongoing, has so far resulted in these five settlements.The New York City-based brokerage firms that have settled with the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau are Absolute Properties, Destination Real Estate and Brownstone Real Estate. Brokers at each of these firms regularly told prospective renters that landlords would not accept the subsidies as payment for rent. 

The Buffalo landlords are Patrick Guidice, who owns and manages five apartments, and Francis Pleto, who owns and manages eight apartments.

Source-of-income discrimination often dovetails with other forms of housing discrimination. Studies have shown that discrimination against Section 8 – the federal voucher program that provides rental housing subsidies to private landlords on behalf of millions of low-income households across the country – voucher holders increases 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. Examples of lawful source of income include Section 8 Rental Assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or earnings from seasonal employment.

The investigation found that in at least one undercover test, Mr. Guidice informed an undercover investigator seeking to rent an apartment that he would not accept government subsidies.  Several Craigslist advertisements Mr. Guidice posted in April 2012 stated: “Sorry do not except (sic) government assisted rental,” or “Sorry but at this time government assisted rental organizations are not excepted (sic).” From May 2012 through May 2013, Mr. Guidice posted at least 11 advertisements on Craigslist that said, “Private pay only;” “Private Pay only, no Government Assistance;” or “Private Personal Pay Only, Do Not Except (sic) Public Funds for Rent.”  The Attorney General’s investigation found that Mr. Guidice had not rented to any individuals using government subsidies in the last three years.

The second Buffalo-area settlement is with Francis Pleto. The Attorney General’s investigation found that Mr. Pleto informed an undercover tester that he would not accept Section 8 vouchers as payment for rent at any of his units. Advertisements posted online by Mr. Pleto asserted that he did not accept government subsidies. Specifically, at least one Craigslist advertisement, posted in August 2013, stated, “Don’t except (sic) Belmont,” referring to Section 8 vouchers issued by Belmont Housing Resources for WNY. Attorney General Schneiderman’s investigation found that Mr. Pleto had not rented to any individuals using government subsidies over the last three years.

Fred Freiberg, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Justice Center in New York City, said, “Unfortunately, discrimination in housing based on source of income happens all too often in our City.  Not only is it unlawful, but it harms some of the most vulnerable populations that are at risk of homelessness and in need of affordable rental housing.  We commend the Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau for taking action to seek compliance with the law and ensure that housing opportunities are available on an equal basis to renters with public subsidies.”

Scott W. Gehl, Executive Director of Housing Opportunities Made Equal, said, “People receiving government assistance have as much right to rent a home or apartment as any other equally qualified tenant.  Unlawful source of income discrimination deprives law-abiding citizens the right to find a decent home.  HOME appreciates that the Attorney General has taken vigorous action to combat the most frequently reported type of housing bias in Western New York.”

In New York City, undercover investigators from the Attorney General’s office also sought to determine whether government-issued vouchers were being accepted. Absolute Properties is a real estate brokerage firm in Manhattan that lists numerous properties for rent in the city. In one test, an employee of Absolute Properties informed an undercover investigator that “they don’t do Section 8.” Documents reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office revealed that Absolute Properties had, on multiple occasions, informed prospective tenants that government subsidies were not accepted at their listed properties. 

Brownstone Real Estate is a brokerage with three locations in Brooklyn. The investigation revealed that real estate agents at Brownstone told potential renters that vouchers were not accepted at their listed properties.  In addition, documents revealed that real estate agents at Brownstone failed to respond to multiple inquiries by prospective tenants who inquired about using government vouchers to rent their listed apartments.

Destination Real Estate is a brokerage firm in Brooklyn. It is owned and operated by Lawrence Roberts, Sr. The investigation revealed that Destination Real advertised an apartment as “Income Only,” and an employee of Destination Real Estate subsequently confirmed that this meant earned income and excluded government assistance.

Absolute Properties operates out of 1677 Amsterdam Ave. in Manhattan. Brownstone Real Estate’s three Brooklyn locations are at 268 Court Street; 372 7th Avenue; and 179 Atlantic Ave. Destination Real Estate is located at 540 Court St, in Brooklyn. 

Pursuant to the settlements and the requirements of local law, these brokerage firms and landlords will:

  • modify their policies to ensure that all rental applicants are provided equal access to housing opportunities;
  • conduct training for employees around these new anti-discrimination policies;
  • preserve records of any complaints related to source-of-income discrimination;
  • inform landlords that refuse to accept government vouchers of their obligations under the law;
  • provide periodic reports to the Attorney General’s Office to ensure compliance with the law; and
  • pay monetary penalties ranging from $5,000 for the individual landlords to $6,000 for the smallest brokerage firm, Destination Real Estate; $15,000 for Absolute Properties; and $18,000 Brownstone Real Estate, the largest of the three firm.  

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Sandra Pullman of the Civil Rights Bureau, which is led by Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke. Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social is Justice Alvin Bragg.

The Civil Rights Bureau of the Attorney General’s Office is committed to promoting fair housing policies and combating discrimination faced by all New Yorkers. To file a civil rights complaint, contact the Attorney General’s Office at (212) 416-8250, civil.rights@ag.ny.gov or visit www.ag.ny.gov.   

Further information on fair housing laws can be found here.

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