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Opening Acts: January 12, 2023

Brokers Beware: “We’re On To You!”

HIDDEN DISCRIMINATION UNCOVERED THROUGH COORDINATED EFFORTS BY FAIR HOUSING GROUPS

Today, the Fair Housing Justice Center (FHJC) announced a new state court lawsuit against three licensed real estate agents working with the online real estate company Finders NYC and the real estate company itself. The lawsuit alleges the agents engaged in source of income discrimination by consistently ignoring and misleading prospective renters with vouchers.

In 2022, the FHJC received multiple complaints about the Finders agents from ten separate individuals. Several of the complaints were referred to the FHJC by the nonprofit advocacy group Unlock NYC. In response to the wave of complaints all against the same company, FHJC launched an investigation into Finders’ business practices.

When prospective renters call Finders NYC, they are instructed to submit additional information via text to be “pre-qualified.” On disclosing their voucher, most prospective renters receive the same response: “To our knowledge, all of our landlords work with vouchers & programs. Let us confirm that and get back to you. Have a great day!” In every case, communication from Finders NYC then ceases, and questions and messages from prospective renters are point-blank ignored.

FHJC testers posing as prospective renters with income solely from employment received prompt responses and were able to schedule apartment viewings easily, whereas testers posing as renters with vouchers were given a stock response and subsequently ignored, corroborating every complainant’s experience. Not a single tester with a voucher was able to schedule an apartment viewing or receive any further information from Finders NYC after disclosing their voucher.

“We applaud the many individuals and Unlock NYC who shared information about the discriminatory practices we are challenging here,” said FHJC Executive Director Elizabeth Grossman.  “The FHJC often uses information provided by the public to inform its investigative decisions, and anyone is free to register a complaint of housing discrimination through our website at any time, including anonymously.”

“Because this type of discrimination has so often gone undetected, too many real estate agents and other housing providers continue to disregard their legal obligations by ignoring or lying to qualified applicants,” said FHJC Legal Coordinator Madhulika Murali. “But brokers should take note: we’re on to you. The FHJC, Unlock NYC, and other groups are working together and using the latest technology to root out hidden discrimination.”

The FHJC is represented by Attorney Mariann Wang and Attorney Alex Goldenberg with the law firm Cuti Hecker Wang LLP.

“The defendants’ actions fundamentally prevent those New Yorkers with the most dire need for housing from obtaining safe and secure homes for themselves and their families.  Defendants’ unlawful behavior must stop,” stated Mr. Goldenberg. The full complaint can be read here.

Unlock NYC is a tech nonprofit majority-led by women who have experienced housing discrimination due to having rental assistance vouchers. Unlock NYC works with voucher holders and advocates to build tools that make it easier to identify, document, and report source of income discrimination during a housing search. 

The mission of the FHJC, a nonprofit civil rights organization, is to eliminate housing discrimination; promote policies and programs that foster open, accessible, and inclusive communities; and strengthen enforcement of fair housing laws in the New York City region.