A Long Island apartment complex operator has agreed to pay $40,000 to settle complaints it discriminated against prospective renters based on the source of their income.
Brookwood Apartments, which has six apartment complexes in Suffolk County, entered the settlement with Long Island Housing Services, a Bohemia-based fair housing agency, following an investigation that started in 2019. Brookwood’s apartment buildings are run by Campbird Management.
Long Island Housing Services said it started the investigation after hearing from renters that Brookwood was requiring people using housing vouchers to show income of 2.75 times rent prices to qualify. The agency’s fair housing testing found all renters, including those using housing vouchers, would need to meet the income requirements.
Imposing such a requirement on renters using housing vouchers, such as those offered through the federal Section 8 program, violates state Human Rights Law, LIHS said. Three-quarters of Section 8 housing voucher recipients are required to earn less than 30% of the area median income. That threshold is $43,600 for a family of four living on Long Island this year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Brookwood’s policy would have required households seeking to rent a $2,000-a-month apartment to earn $5,500 a month. The company has apartment complexes in Bay Shore, Holbrook, Islip, Oakdale, Ridge and Sayville.
Such a policy is discriminatory because housing voucher recipients already have government payments that cover most of their rent, and the government has already verified that they can afford the remaining portion that the tenant must cover, said Ian Wilder, executive director of LIHS.
“Generally, if someone has a voucher, they’re not going to have 2.75 times the amount of the full rent [in income] because then they would not qualify for the voucher,” Wilder said. “I’m not saying it’s purposeful in any case, but it’s a way of automatically discriminating against people with vouchers.”
He noted that renters paying through housing vouchers and other government funds have a more secure source of income than other renters “because that’s a government benefit that cannot be taken away easily.”
LIHS said Brookwood agreed to adopt policies that will help it adhere to anti-discrimination laws. The fair housing agency’s staff will also conduct training for Brookwood employees.
Brookwood will pay $16,000 to Long Island Housing Services to help cover the cost of the investigation and representing its clients. It also will pay $12,000 to each of the two individuals who filed complaints against the apartment operator.
New York state added source-of-income protections to its housing discrimination law in 2019. Local laws prohibiting the practice — which also applies to Social Security income, disability income, child support and unemployment insurance among other sources — went into effect in 2007 in Nassau County and 2015 in Suffolk County.
In 2020, the state Division of Human Rights published guidance that explains housing providers cannot use income requirements to avoid the law. “A housing provider cannot have a facially neutral income or wealth requirement that is equally applied but has the effect of excluding populations with rental subsidies,” the state agency wrote.
Manny Kottaram, a spokesman for the state Division of Human Rights, said in addition to that guidance, the agency has created informational videos and held educational events for landlords and real estate professionals to inform them about the law.
Last year, DHR announced the rental listing website Zumper and its subsidiary Padmapper paid $40,000 in fines for unlawfully discriminating against prospective tenants paying through Section 8 vouchers. The companies had created a filter on their websites to deny Section 8 recipients access to listings.
A new state regulation, effective Aug. 17, will require state or local entities that administer housing programs to notify recipients about their rights and how they file a complaint.
Wilder said he would like to see more government intervention to make sure landlords comply with the law.
“We’re regularly seeing these cases,” Wilders aid. “We need to have government step up, probably on the municipal level because they issue rental permits, and just have a series of forms or education for landlords.”
Brookwood did not return phone messages seeking comment Thursday. The “About Us” page of the company’s website references its policy accepting all forms of lawful income, including housing vouchers.
“We treat individuals using income from vouchers or rental subsidies as we treat people with income from employment,” the company’s website says.