Long Island brokerages, landlords accused of Section 8 discrimination

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices among players named in Housing Rights Initiative suit

Housing Rights Initiative’s Aaron Carr; Long Island; torn paper
Housing Rights Initiative’s Aaron Carr (Housing Rights Initiative, Getty)

UPDATED, April 6, 6:20 p.m.: A tenant watchdog group filed a discrimination suit against a group of Long Island brokerages over their dealings with renters using government-issued housing vouchers. 

In a suit filed Thursday, Housing Rights Initiative accused 12 real estate companies of refusing to rent apartments to testers posing as would-be tenants with Section 8 housing vouchers. Discrimination against tenants due to income source is illegal in New York State. 

Among the defendants named are Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Laffey International Realty and Coldwell Banker American Homes, formerly known as Century 21 American Homes. 

The suit is based on a team of investigators organized by HRI to pose as apartment seekers with government-sponsored rental assistance and record their interactions with brokers and landlords representing voucher-eligible units. 

The defendants’ refusal to accept housing vouchers has created a “staggering reduction in the available inventory of safe and affordable housing for some of the most vulnerable residents of Nassau County,” attorneys for the watchdog group said. 

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The lawsuit joins a similar case filed in 2021 by the group, which alleged discrimination against voucher-holding renters by 88 brokers and landlords in New York City. A federal judge in February approved the plaintiffs’ request to move the case to discovery, requiring some of the defendants to hand over documents and emails. 

Compass, the Corcoran Group and Century 21 were named among the defendants in the 2021 lawsuit. After settling with HRI last year, Compass vowed to take steps to mitigate further discrimination, including boosting commissions for agents on Section 8 leases. 

The latest suit aims to push state agencies to demand compliance amid an affordable housing crisis, according to HRI founder and executive director Aaron Carr, who called for the New York State Department of State to respond to “the systematic issue of housing discrimination by systematically revoking the brokers’ licenses of those who engage in it.” 

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Correction: An earlier version of this article identified Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices as a defendant in the suit. It is Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Laffey International Realty, a franchise of the California-based brokerage, who is among the defendants named in the suit.