The Connecticut Fair Housing Center notched a $50,000 settlement against a landlord and a real estate agent accused of not allowing a tenant to pay some of her rent with a federal Housing Choice Voucher, also known as Section 8.
While the settlement finalized in late May stressed the agreement was made without admitting liability, housing law experts said the practice is common in the Nutmeg state. The woman in question was attempting to move into a Danbury townhouse apartment.
“I would say that, over the course of my 20-plus years as a legal services attorney, it is common knowledge among many legal aid attorneys that some landlords up-front refuse to take Section 8 as rent payments,” said Jan Chiaretto, executive director of the Wethersfield-based Statewide Legal Services.
Chiaretto added that it’s been illegal in Connecticut since 1990 to discriminate against someone because of the source of their rent.
“In some cases, some landlords do not know the law,” said Chiaretto, who was not involved in the settlement. “A lot of it is ignorance and also the dislike of involvement with a government-backed voucher program. For some landlords, it might seem complicated and something they do not want to get involved with.”
While it’s not clear how many of the approximately 36,000 Connecticut residents who receive Section 8 have been denied housing illegally, Chiaretto noted: “Anecdotally, it seems to be a pervasive problem. It remains a barrier of access to decent affordable housing for low-income people. One rejection is one rejection too many.”
Mediation in the case of prospective tenant Barbara Capri against Danbury property owner Barbara Blauvelt and real estate agent Alfred Surprenant failed. The parties finally reached a settlement after the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities began an investigation.
According to Capri’s four-page complaint with the commission, she was looking to move into a South Street townhouse that was significantly newer and more updated than the home she was living in. The complaint claims Sarah Becker, a licensed real estate agent Capri hired, contacted Surprenant about the unit. “On May 23, 2016, Mr. Surprenant responded to Ms. Becker by telling her that tenants utilizing Section 8 vouchers would not be considered for the South Street unit.”
Section 8 is a federal housing assistance program designed to make housing affordable for those whose income will not cover rent.
The CHRO complaint states that because of being denied the housing of her choice, Capri “suffered severe emotional distress, violation of her rights, and economic damages.”
In legal papers, Blauvelt said she never discriminates against people using Section 8 and Surprenant said he couldn’t remember Capri’s case.
Surprenant and Blauvelt each paid Capri $25,000, for a total settlement award of $50,000. In addition, Surprenant was required to take a two-hour housing training course with the commission.
Pamela Heller, staff attorney for the Hartford-based Connecticut Fair Housing Center, told the Connecticut Law Tribune Monday that refusal to rent to those with Section 8 happens frequently.
“The law has been on the books a long time and still real estate agents are the worst violators of it and that includes large chain real estate companies,” she said. “Unfortunately, I have seen that even real estate agents who get training on this often do not follow the rules.”
Heller said her hope is that “people seeing what happened here will realize there are consequences to their actions and landlords and real estate agents will be discouraged from discriminating based on someone’s source of income.”
Edward L. Marcus, who represents Blauvelt and Surprenant, said, “We made no admissions [of liability]. One of our clients [Blauvelt] was quite elderly and quite ill and was never involved in litigation before and wanted to get the matter behind her.”
Marcus added: “Sometimes you hold them and sometimes you fold them.”
Capri “felt embarrassed and confused” by the situation, Heller said. “She asked why this was happening to her. She knew she was a great tenant and included a letter from an old landlord saying she was a great tenant.”
Heller said Capri ultimately moved to a Danbury suburb with her children and “is very happy with her new place.”