Eric Schneiderman for Attorney General

N.Y. attorney general reaches deal with 3 real estate firms charged with illegally denying apartments to people on housing assistance

May 27, 2016

As published in the NY Daily News on May 23, 2016.

ALBANY — State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached deals with three major real estate firms to stop what he claimed was the illegal denial of apartments to people on public housing assistance, the Daily News has learned.

In settlements to be announced Monday, the three firms agreed to pay fines ranging from $13,000 to $40,000 and implement new management and training procedures to safeguard against future discrimination, officials said.

The agreements involve Douglas Elliman Real Estate, Empire State Equities and Crifasi Real Estate, which together manage and market hundreds of apartments across the city and in Nassau and Westchester counties.

“Turning away individuals from an apartment based on a lawful source of income is a blatant form of discrimination,” Schneiderman said.

“Everyone deserves a fair shot at renting an apartment in New York — especially during a time when many are struggling to find affordable housing,” he added.

In a statement, a spokesman for Douglas Elliman said the company “does not and will not condone discrimination in any form and fully cooperated with the attorney general in its investigation.”

Officials at the other companies either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comments. As part of the settlements, the firms neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing.

According to the settlements, employees from both Crifasi and Douglas Elliman told undercover operatives from Schneiderman’s office that government subsidies would not be accepted at certain apartments listed for rent.

Schneiderman’s office also found that representatives from Empire Equities used fictitious waiting lists to deter probers who asked about the use of Section 8 housing vouchers.

In one instance, an Empire employee told one of Schneiderman’s operatives that an apartment was available for rent and then backtracked after the operative asked to use a Section 8 voucher. The operative was then told there was a four-month waiting list for the unit.

Days later, another operative from the attorney general’s office called Empire about the same apartment and, without mentioning Section 8 vouchers, was told the unit was available immediately.

Under the agreements, the firms will, among other things, send employees to fair housing training programs, publicly state that government subsidies are accepted and discontinue listings from landlords that refuse to accept subsidies.

The firms will also forward to the attorney general any future complaints they receive about housing discrimination.

“We will not let unscrupulous companies create unlawful barriers to renters,” Schneiderman said.