‘Source of Income’ Discrimination Continues Despite Law

NY1 Investigation finds ‘routine’ denials of Section 8 vouchers

Since 2008, New York City has prohibited landlords from discriminating against tenants based on their “source of income” — refusing to rent them apartments because their rent is paid by a government program such as Section 8 vouchers or public assistance.

But it is still rampant, in part because it can be difficult to prove. A New York 1 investigation released on January 27 found that thousands of families in homeless shelters who were given vouchers to pay the rent on new apartments had been “routinely denied” by landlords and brokers who say they don’t accept rent subsidies.

The city Human Rights Commission can investigate complaints, impose penalties, and force the landlord to accept the tenant, but only if the tenant has proof either in writing or on an audio recording. In some cases, the commission can send testers posing as voucher tenants seeking an apartment, but it does not have the resources to investigate and prosecute every case.

Two laws enacted last November to strengthen protections against source-ofincome discrimination go into effect February 15. One bill extends protection to renters in buildings with one to five units, which were previously exempt, and expands the scope of protected income sources to include child support and more. The second new law requires the city’s welfare agency to notify applicants who are approved for a subsidy that landlords are not allowed to refuse it, and informing them how to file a complaint if they do.

“The laws prohibiting discrimination based on source of income have been great tools towards combating the bias faced by renters who want to use a voucher to help pay the monthly rent,” says Robert Desir of The Legal Aid Society’s Law Reform unit. “Many would be unable to leave shelter or substandard housing without these laws. However, this illegal discriminatory practice remains a vexing problem that warrants more attention and resources towards its eradication.”

The economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the situation somewhat. With evictions and other Housing Court proceedings temporarily halted, and hundreds of thousands of tenants unable to pay their rent, many landlords are more willing to accept vouchers, as they provide regular direct payments.

To file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission, call (718) 722-3131.