“It’s not fair,” a single father said. “Landlords assume you’re a drug addict or something just because you’re using a housing voucher to pay rent. They treat you like you’re less than human when you mention you have a Section 8 voucher.”
“Even though I had a perfectly legal way to pay my rent,” a mother told the Commission on Human Rights, “I kept getting turned down by landlords which was degrading for me and my daughter. With no place to live, we ended up in the shelter system. It was really depressing and I kept thinking this was a reflection of who I was, even though I knew it wasn’t true.”
These are just a two of many stories the NYC Commission on Human Rights has heard from New Yorkers who have been unfairly turned away from housing because of how they pay their rent or security deposit. In New York City, this practice is illegal under the NYC Human Rights Law.
Landlords and brokers cannot refuse to take people’s government assistance or housing vouchers toward the payment of rent or security deposits, nor can they reject tenants by telling them “they don’t earn enough income” to meet their income requirement.
This form of housing discrimination is called lawful source of income discrimination. It’s illegal and shameful, robbing vulnerable individuals and families of housing when they need it the most, which is why the NYC Commission on Human Rights is aggressively cracking down on landlords and brokers who break the law.
Every current or prospect tenant in New York City with federal, state, or local public or housing assistance — including Section 8, Living in Communities (LINC), Supplemental Security Income (SSI), HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy (FEPS), Special Exit and Prevention Supplement (SEPS), Veterans’ GI Bill, and Advantage program vouchers, among others — is entitled by law to use their assistance toward the payment of rent. Security deposits and one-time emergency grants, which help people who can’t meet an expense due to an unexpected situation or event, are also protected under the Law.
The city’s assistance programs, which are part of Mayor de Blasio’s broader effort to get people into permanent housing, have helped more than 55,000 New Yorkers transition from shelters to permanent housing or avoid shelters altogether. The Commission has doubled down on its enforcement efforts to make sure that every person in NYC with a voucher or government assistance can use it to pay rent.
Last year, the commission fined one management company operating more than 500 units citywide with a record $100,000 civil penalty for refusing to show a prospective tenant an apartment after he revealed he had a Section 8 voucher. This month, the commission fined another landlord $33,000 in civil penalties and directed the landlord to pay the prospective tenant emotional distress damages for rejecting the tenant’s security voucher, a move that left the tenant homeless for months.
The commission has also revitalized its testing program to root out source of income discrimination. The program recently uncovered evidence leading to charges against large landlords and brokers controlling 20,000 units citywide.
The stakes are just too high for tenants and families seeking a safe and affordable place to live. Rejecting a tenant because of how they pay their rent is humiliating experience with dire consequences, leaving many with few or no other housing options.
Unfortunately, many New Yorkers don’t know they are protected by the Law, which is why the commission is hosting its Fifth Annual Fair Housing Symposium this week to educate people their rights and how to file a claim when they experience lawful source of income discrimination and tenant harassment. The commission also just released this fact sheet on housing voucher discrimination to clarify protections.
Everyone in this city deserves a place to live. Tenants who receive government assistance just want a roof over their head like every other renter in this city. We can and must do better to ensure that every New Yorker in need of housing can access it. It’s the law, but it’s also the right thing to do.
Carmelyn P. Malalis is the Commissioner and Chair of the New York City Commission on Human Rights, the agency charged with enforcing and educating on the New York City Human Rights Law.
If you or someone you know experiences or witness discrimination, call 311 and ask for Human Rights or the Commission directly at 718-722-3131. Learn more about source of income discrimination at nyc.gov/fairhousingNYC.