I-Team: Renters With Section 8 Vouchers Turned Away Despite Legal Protections

Laws in New York City and Westchester and Nassau counties forbid big buildings from rejecting tenants simply because they rely on government aid. But the I-Team went undercover and found many brokers and landlords say upfront that they won’t accept Section 8 vouchers -- in full disregard of those laws.

For one Brooklyn mother, a year-long apartment hunt has been a constant lesson in rejection. She relies on the Section 8 program to help her pay the rent, but repeatedly she says brokers and landlords have turned her down.

"Mostly brokers tell me up front. 'No we don't take Section 8, or the landlord doesn't take Section 8,'" said the woman, a licensed social worker with a master’s degree who asked the I-Team not to use her name because of the perceived stigma that comes with being on public services.

After repeatedly being rejected for apartments, the mother contacted The Fair Housing Justice Center, a nonprofit organization that tests landlords for housing discrimination. The Center did their own tests on landlords, and found that they rejected their testers as well when the investigators pretending to be prospective tenants said they would be paying rent using Section 8 vouchers.

The mother is now suing more than two dozen brokers and landlords who allegedly turned her down for that reason.

“She deserves an apartment. She should not have to be sleeping on friends couches,” her attorney, Mariann Wang, said.

On Craigslist and other popular real estate sites, dozens of ads say "No Section 8" or "No Program," The I-Team found ads for two- and three-bedroom units in posh Brooklyn Heights that read, "Sorry, do not take public assistance."

When the I-Team set up appointments to see the apartments, the broker reiterated what was in the ads.

"No. They're not accepting Section 8,” the broker said, adding that only “working class” people are wanted.

The owners of two Brooklyn buildings that said they don’t accept public assistance did not respond to messages left by the I-Team.

Joe Masino, a spokesman for Bronstein Properties, the owner of the Brooklyn Heights building that listed ads for two- and three-bedroom apartments, sent the I-Team an email saying the ads were not not posted by Bronstein Properties, nor were they posted "at the direction or with the knowledge of Bronstein."

When contacted later by phone, the broker who wrote the ad said the ban on public assistance was a mistake; she said she accidentally cut and pasted the content from another ad.

Wang and Fred Freiberg, director of the Fair Housing Justice Center, have criticized New York City’s Human Rights Commission, the agency responsible for rooting out housing discrimination, for not aggressively enforcing rules passed in 2008 that outlawed discrimination based on “source of income.”

“It’s not enforced and unfortunately there are many landlords and brokers who still break the law openly and blatantly," Wang said.

“The city needs to recognize that it is actually more costly to allow this discrimination to go on unabated, than to actually do something to stop the discrimination," added Freiberg.

Patricia Gatling, the head of the city's Human Rights Commission, canceled an interview with the I-Team, but issued a statement describing her record as “proactive in combating housing discrimination.”

She said the Human Rights Commission has obtained $390,000 in settlements from buildings and brokers who have been accused of discriminating against people on public assistance.

Her statement also noted that housing discrimination is only one of the many types of discrimination the Human Rights Commission is tasked with battling.

“Housing complaints make up 20 percent of the cases filed at the New York City Commission on Human Rights,” Gatling wrote to the I-Team. "There are currently 107 housing discrimination cases pending at the agency; only 13 alleged Lawful Source of Income discrimination.”

"To date, we have taken 16 Lawful Source of Income cases to trial,” she said.

This week, Mayor de Blasio confirmed he will be replacing Gatling with a new commissioner in the near future. He did not provide a reason for the decision. 

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