Secret Investigation Alleges NYC’s Top Real Estate Brokers Discriminate Against Low-Income NYers

According to the findings of a year-long undercover investigation released Monday, many of New York’s most dominant real estate companies unlawfully discriminate against low-income residents who rely on housing assistance.

Led by the Housing Rights Initiative, the in-depth investigation identified 88 landlords and brokerages who allegedly discriminated against tenants seeking apartments with Section 8 vouchers, which provide federal financial assistance to help low-income residents to cover part of their rent.

The nonprofit watchdog deployed undercover investigators as candidates, recording nearly 500 phone conversations with owners and their brokers, including Compass Inc., The Corcoran Group and Century 21. otherwise skilled mentioned their Section 8 voucher, real estate professionals ended the conversation 48% of the time, according to HRI.

In a recorded call last April, an investigator inquiring about a Cobble Hill studio was reportedly told by a Compass representative: ‘No, we don’t do Section 8 vouchers in this building.’ Another Jan Reynolds Real Estate broker allegedly said three times that a tenant with a voucher would not qualify for an Upper West Side building, saying there was “no hope in a hell “.

Reached by phone, Jan Reynolds, the company’s only employee, maintained that she had never said such a thing to a tenant in Section 8, in part because she only rents apartments “high enough “that low-income renters can’t afford. Told by Gothamist that the conversations were being recorded, she replied, “Okay, whatever.” Compass declined to comment.

The findings were outlined in a federal lawsuit filed Monday that accuses real estate companies of a discriminatory practice that disproportionately affects black and Hispanic New Yorkers, who make up 82% of bond holders in the five boroughs. In many cases, the burden of voucher discrimination falls most heavily on those trying to leave the city’s shelter system.

At a Monday press conference, Nancy Padilla, who has spent nearly two decades in city shelters, said stable housing remains elusive even after receiving a voucher. “Despite my best efforts and commitment to finding an apartment, every time a landlord found out I had a housing voucher, they turned me down, even if I qualified,” she said.

The survey also found that rejections were more pronounced in affluent white neighborhoods, suggesting the practice has deepened racial segregation, according to Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez. The Brooklyn representative pledged on Monday to reintroduce legislation banning discrimination by vouchers at the federal level.

A city law passed in 2008 – pushed by then-alderman Bill de Blasio – already prevents tenants from being denied an apartment because of the way they pay rent. Yet landlords have routinely flouted this law, raising questions about the city’s commitment to enforcing it.

The New York Commission on Human Rights, which provides city-level oversight, has just three people in its income discrimination unit, the Times reported.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office told Gothamist that the Commission assessed more than $1.2 million in damages and penalties for discrimination based on source of income. “They continue to aggressively investigate and pursue owners and brokers to seek justice for complainants,” spokeswoman Laura Feyer added.

Aaron Carr, the founder of HRI, said the survey proved the need for a more proactive approach to preventing widespread voucher discrimination in New York City.

“This investigation was not aimed at any particular real estate company, it was aimed at an entire real estate industry,” Carr said. “Our goal here is simple: to get real estate companies to abandon their discriminatory housing practices and respect this damn law.”

Kristan F. Talley