Group sues 20 Boston-area landlords, real estate brokers for housing discrimination

A housing watchdog group is suing 20 Boston-area landlords and real estate brokers for discrimination against low-income tenants, after conducting an investigation with “testers” who identified themselves as prospective tenants looking for housing.

The complaint was filed in Suffolk Superior Court by Lawyers for Civil Rights and Handley Farah & Anderson PLLC, the Lawyers for Civil Rights said in a statement Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges that the landlords and brokers “shamelessly refuse to rent apartments to low-income tenants with government-subsidized housing vouchers,” or “Section 8″ vouchers, the statement said. Read the 51-page lawsuit here.

Housing Rights Initiative used “testers” as part of its investigation into housing practices, the statement said.

The “testers” identified themselves as prospective tenants when they contacted landlords and brokers to ask about apartment listings, the statement said.

“Over and over, Defendants and their agents responded positively until the moment when testers asked if they could use vouchers,” the statement said. “At that point, the complaint alleges, Defendants openly, and illegally, told the testers that they would not accept vouchers. The complaint includes scores of damning screenshots of text messages explicitly showing this illegal discrimination.”

Housing vouchers that are given to low-income families subsidize a portion of their rent.

“In the midst of a statewide affordable housing crisis, which disproportionately harms communities of color, vouchers are often the only way for thousands of families to get and keep a roof over their heads,” the statement said. “Recognizing the vulnerability of voucher holders, the Commonwealth’s anti-discrimination statute—G.L. c. 151B—specifically prohibits landlords from discriminating against applicants for using housing vouchers.”

Aaron Carr, founder and executive director of Housing Rights Initiative, said in a statement that the lawsuit “sends a clear message.”

“As the largest fair housing lawsuit by defendant size in Massachusetts history, this lawsuit sends a clear message to every landlord and broker in the state: if you are a real estate company that discriminates against families and children with housing vouchers, the question of whether you will be caught is not a matter of if, but when,” Carr said.

Jacob Love, staff attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said in a statement, “This lawsuit aims not just to hold twenty defendants accountable for their deplorable conduct, but to serve as a warning to all local housing providers that voucher discrimination is illegal and will not be tolerated. The message here is clear: stop discriminating against low-income families and children.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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