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Group sues Boston-area landlords, brokers it says refuse to rent to people with government housing vouchers

A housing advocacy group today sued a series of Boston-area landlords and brokers it says violated state law by refusing to consider prospective tenants who said they had Section 8 or other government housing vouchers.

Housing Rights Initiative, based in New York, but with an office in Boston, says that this past summer and fall, it had people call or text brokers for advertised units starting last fall to see if they would even show units to people with the vouchers. It said it decided to test brokers after hearing from both local housing agencies, including the Boston Housing Authority, and from actual prospective renters about difficulties finding places to rent with the vouchers.

In its lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the group says the landlords and brokers not only are breaking the law but are exacerbating housing problems in a region with some of the nation's highest housing costs:

Defendants' refusal to accept vouchers impedes these families' search for housing, prolonging the time they must spend in homeless shelters, on the streets, or in substandard dwellings. This not only endangers and destabilizes families and children, but also restricts the opportunity for those families to live in their neighborhood of choice.

Defendants' discriminatory policies and practices also entrench Boston's racially segregated housing patterns. Bostonians of color are overwhelmingly concentrated in lower- income neighborhoods with fewer public resources than similarly situated white families. Voucher discrimination perpetuates this unacceptable reality by limiting the options available to voucher holders outside of those neighborhoods.

HRI says the problem is compounded because people who get Section 8 or state-funded vouchers typically only get four months to find a place to live, and if they can't, their vouchers are withdrawn. It adds its findings come four years after a similar series of tests by Suffolk University Law School "found evidence of voucher-based discrimination in 86% of tests."

The units HRI "tested" were in Boston, Brookline, Newton and Lexington, with a number of them in the North End. Most of the landlords and brokers are in eastern Massachusetts, but also named in the suit is a California property-management company that advertises online it can provide landlords "above market rental income."

HRI's testers investigated the policies and practices of brokers and landlords throughout the Boston area. They first identified public advertisements for residential apartments that complied with the Housing Choice Voucher Programs' payment standards. Then, the testers called and/or sent text messages to the listed telephone numbers. HRI did not record the calls.

Typically, the conversations started out friendly and solicitous. Brokers were typically eager to talk with the tester, learn about what the tester wanted in an apartment, and organize showings. But all too often, as described below, the conversations' tenor shifted abruptly - and stopped altogether - as soon as the testers presented themselves as voucher holders.

On July 12, 2023, an HRI fair housing tester presenting as a prospective tenant contacted Charlesgate Realty Group, LLC concerning an available apartment at 219 Commonwealth Ave #44, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467 listed on Trulia. At all relevant times, Zee 219 Commonwealth LLC owned the apartment. The listing advertised a one-bedroom apartment for $2,900 per month. The tester sent a text message to the listing's phone number, (603) 721-1631, which is associated with a broker named Olesea Bejan. When the tester asked if a Housing Choice Voucher could be used, the broker replied that it would not be accepted.

The landlords and brokers have until June 20 to file replies, according to the court docket.

Complete complaint - with names of the landlords and brokers (2.1M PDF).

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Comments

The Section 8 program got a big overhaul when Biden became president. One important change is that there's a representative working for HUD that can interface with the landlord if something goes wrong. So Landlords don't need to fear a deadbeat tenant trashing the place with no recourse. And the vouchers pay more too.

Can't say I have firsthand knowledge on either side but it seems like the program has been improved. (Assuming you can get a voucher at all.)

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Voting closed 32

Do voucher amounts include first, last, security and broker fees (when applicable)? Thx

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The vouchers only cover rent when rent is due. So no up-front payment of first/last but they will cover those payments on the 1st of those months.

Security deposit isn't covered at all.

As a landlord you can't reject someone just because they are using a voucher but you can reject the applicant for a variety of other reasons.

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A remarkable housing lawsuit in that Alpha Management is not among the defendants. There's a first for everything, I suppose.

I hope the plaintiffs can find justice, or at least the housing that their vouchers entitle them to. It's a hard enough process to get housing assistance that being further stonewalled only increases the chances that the recipient ends up homeless or in unsafe housing.

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Oh, boy. At the end of the day, the broker of a real estate agency is ultimately responsible for what each agent does, so there are definitely some awkward conversations going on right now between agents and brokers. I hope the brokers have errors & omissions insurance for themselves and for their agents.

Primarily, this is a lack of training.

So this is a civil suit, apparently. And the NY company is suing to get money in exchange for being the "aggrieved party" even though there were no actual people looking to rent apartments who faced discrimination. That's not a common thing, is it? Regardless of its merits (of which there are many), isn't this just a "nuisance" case?

Discrimination based on source of income is reprehensible.

[PS. The NY company called places and said it had a voucher for $4,000 for a studio apartment. There are no vouchers that can be used for $4,000 studio apartments. In most of the examples included in the complaint, the NY company told the real estate agencies it had vouchers that couldn't possibly exist under current limits. At least that's the way I read it.]

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