LAW360: Mass. Landlords, Brokers Sued For Alleged Voucher Refusals

Feb 22, 2024
Law360 (February 21, 2024, 8:15 PM EST) -- A national housing advocacy group on Wednesday sued 20 Boston-area landlords and real estate brokers in state court, alleging they illegally refused to rent apartments to potential tenants with housing vouchers.

Housing Rights Initiative said in the complaint filed in Suffolk County Superior Court that it used testers posing as potential renters to identify property owners and real estate brokers who refused to accept "Housing Choice" and Massachusetts rental assistance vouchers, a form of assistance that covers a portion of the rent for low-income and some disabled tenants.

"Over and over, defendants and their agents responded positively until the moment when testers asked if they could use vouchers," Housing Rights Initiative said in a press release announcing the lawsuit.

"Housing Rights Initiative, with its attorneys at Laywers for Civil Rights and Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC, is committed to ensuring broad compliance with civil rights laws in the Boston-area housing market," the organization added. "For too long, landlords and real estate brokers have broken those laws with impunity — callously rejecting voucher holders with disregard for the lasting damage that such discrimination does to people and communities."

Tenants have a 120-day window in which to find housing with a voucher, a task that is already challenging due to a housing shortage and high rents, the group said in its complaint.

One tester, according to the complaint, applied for a $2,900-a-month, one-bedroom apartment in Chestnut Hill —an affluent neighborhood straddling Brookline and Newton — last July and scheduled a tour, later asking if the owner accepted vouchers. According to a screenshot of a text exchange, she was then told, "Unfortunately, vouchers are not allowed for this building. So sorry!"

Other testers were allegedly told the same. One broker told an applicant that because the unit was "market rent," it "won't work for the voucher," which would cover up to $3,284 per month.

Others said property owners did not accept applicants with vouchers, with one broker for an apartment in upscale Beacon Hill in Boston allegedly telling the tester "Unfortunately, they don't do Section 8" in a text message. Another broker for a Lexington apartment said the company did not have "infrastructure" to accept vouchers, according to the complaint.

Housing Rights Initiative said it became aware of the problem through conversations with applicants and a Boston Housing Authority employee, who shared the results of a similar test by Suffolk University Law School. Housing Rights Initiative has conducted similar investigations and filed lawsuits in other states.

Massachusetts's anti-discrimination law prohibits property owners or managers from discriminating against tenants using housing vouchers.

Named in the complaint were Charlesgate Realty Group LLC, Zee 219 Commonwealth LLC, Harvard Ave. Realty Inc., Evelyn Saleh as trustee of the Browne Street Realty Trust, Pop-Pom LLC doing business as Anzalone Realty, Filippo Frattaroli as trustee of the 415 Hanover St. Realty Trust, East Coast Realty, One Forty Five Princeton LLC, New Wave Boston Real Estate LLC, 15-19 Queensberry Street LLC, Prestige Real Estate Inc. doing business as Laer Relaty Partners, Carl T. Cincott Sr. and Michelina M. Cincotti in their capacity as trustees of the Cooper Street Irrevocable Trust, Concept Property Group LLC, Bobson Residential LLC, Zeus Living Inc., Hamilton Battle Green LLC, Sandra Suarez, and Ladd M. Martin Jr. and Russell L. Peterson as trustees of the Marvel Realty Trust.

The defendants were unable to be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

Housing Rights Initiative is represented by Simon Weiner and Mathew K. Handley of Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC and Jacob M. Love and Oren M. Sellstrom of Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Counsel information for the defendants was not immediately available.

The case is Housing Rights Initiative v. Charlesgate Realty Group LLC et al., case number 2484CV00478, in the Suffolk County Superior Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

--Editing by Philip Shea.

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