Some of the nation’s largest real estate brands are facing even more legal woes. Keller Williams, Coldwell Banker, Century 21, RE/MAX and eXp Realty are among 26 different landlords and real estate companies named in a housing discrimination lawsuit filed last Wednesday by nonprofit watchdog group Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) in New Jersey Superior Court.
The story was first reported by the New Jersey Monitor.
The lawsuit claims that a group of landlords and real estate brokers refused to rent units to prospective tenants who use government-provided Section 8 housing vouchers, resulting in “socioeconomic segregation in New Jersey.”
The “defendants’ discriminatory policies result in a substantial decrease in the inventory of safe and affordable housing available to low-income tenants,” the complaint reads.
According to the lawsuit, HRI began receiving reports of housing discrimination in New Jersey in 2017. The organization subsequently began “civil rights testing” by calling housing providers to see if they were obeying fair housing laws, according to the complaint. Through the testing, HRI said it found that many were not obeying these laws.
The complaint details multiple instances in which an HRI representative called about rentals in Newark and Jersey City but was told that the owners did not accept Section 8 housing vouchers. These calls allegedly occurred between 2021 and 2023.
“In many instances, their investigation revealed a policy or practice of effectively refusing to accept vouchers, which prompted HRI to take steps to address such violations of the law,” the complaint states.
Requests for comment sent to the defendants had not been returned by the time of publication.
The HRI is no stranger to housing rights lawsuits, including quite a few over the past few years that allege landlords are discriminating against tenants using federal housing assistance programs or refusing to follow rent stabilized leases.
In May 2022, HRI filed a lawsuit in New Your County Court, suing more than 120 companies, including Douglas Elliman, eXp Realty, Coldwell Banker, RE/MAX and various other brokerage networks, as well as property owners and managers, for their “pattern and practice of unlawfully discriminating against persons in the rental of lease of housing accommodations based on lawful sources of income.”
Discriminatory practices have for decades caused issues for the real estate industry. However, a 2019 investigation uncovered widespread discriminatory practices among agents on Long Island and propelled the issue to the forefront. This investigation resulted in three Long Island brokerages paying $115,000 in a settlement with New York State last September.