Attorney General, WRO Settle Discrimination Cases Against New Rochelle Real Estate Management Firm
Platzner International Group agreed to set aside 20 units for section 8 vouchers under an agreement with NY State.
NEW YORK—New York Attorney General Letitia James announced an agreement on Oct. 10 with New Rochelle-based real estate company and property manager, Platzner International Group (PIG), its owners Merrick Platzner and Harrin Platzner, and their various properties for denying housing to low-income residents in Westchester County.
The Office of the Attorney General, with assistance from the Housing Rights Initiative, found that PIG violated federal, state, and local fair housing laws by denying housing to low-income New Yorkers with Section 8 Housing Choice vouchers. As a result of an agreement with OAG and a separate settlement with Westchester Residential Opportunities (WRO), a White Plains-based local fair housing group who brought their own litigation against PIG for their discriminatory behavior, PIG must set aside 20 units in its portfolio for applicants using Section 8 vouchers or other housing subsidies. PIG must also waive broker fees for any prospective tenant using housing subsidies for the next five years and pay $10,000 to HRI and $95,000 to WRO in damages.
“Every New Yorker, regardless of their income, deserves a place to live,” said Attorney General James. “Denying housing opportunities to low-income New Yorkers simply because they have a housing voucher is not only illegal, it worsens our affordable housing crisis. This agreement will help ensure that renters are treated fairly and will make it clear to brokers and landlords that discrimination will not be tolerated in New York. I want to thank the Housing Rights Initiative and Westchester Residential Opportunities for their help with this investigation and their ongoing and dedicated work to fight housing discrimination in our communities.”
PIG and its related entities own more than 200 residential units across four multi-building complexes and are property managers for an additional 14 residential complexes primarily in Pelham Manor, New Rochelle, and Rye. In November 2021, OAG launched an investigation into PIG based on undercover testing done by HRI that revealed PIG had an explicit policy of refusing to rent units to Section 8 voucher holders in certain buildings. Apartment listings from PIG entities stated, “Sorry, NO section 8,” and a representative from HRI was told that PIG “does not take Section 8” at one of their buildings.
The OAG investigation also found that PIG asked illegal questions to prospective tenants on their rental applications, inquiring about potential tenant’s sex and marital status, a violation of New York’s Human Rights Law and federal fair housing law. In addition, the OAG investigation found that PIG claimed in their rental application that the application fee was as high as $50, a violation of New York State law, which mandates they do not exceed $20.
Housing discrimination based on source of income is illegal under fair housing and human rights laws. Owners, landlords, property managers, rental agents, and brokers are barred from refusing to accept potential tenants solely because they receive lawful housing assistance. Government-issued rental vouchers, such as the Section 8 Housing Choice voucher program, provide housing assistance to the lowest-income households to rent decent, safe housing in the private market. These programs also aid senior citizens and disabled persons on fixed incomes, displaced families, and homeless individuals with disabilities.
As part of an agreement with OAG, PIG will pay $10,000 for HRI’s damages and $95,000 in damages to WRO in their litigation. PIG will also implement an anti-discrimination policy that conforms with federal, state, and local housing laws, and explicitly include in all rental listings that Section 8 vouchers will be accepted. They will also be required to set aside 20 units for tenants holding government housing subsidies like the Section 8 Housing Choice voucher. In addition, the Platzners, their staff, and partners will have to undergo mandatory training on relevant federal, state, and local fair housing laws and be subject to random compliance testing.
“Housing enforcement is the difference between a family being able to use their housing voucher and being homeless,” said Aaron Carr, Founder and Executive Director of Housing Rights Initiative. “We thank Attorney General James and her team for their partnership in proactively and systematically enforcing New York state’s anti-discrimination laws and holding brokers and landlords accountable.”
“We are pleased to be able to work with Attorney General James’ Office to fight discrimination against voucher holders who are denied equal access to housing opportunities solely because of their lawful source of income,” said Marlene Zarfes, Executive Director of Westchester Residential Opportunities. “Source of Income discrimination is widespread and targets the most vulnerable of our society. This settlement should remind housing providers of their equal housing obligations and help to increase housing opportunities for voucher holders as intended under state and county fair housing laws.”
Zarfes added, “Open and equal access to housing for holders of Section 8 and other housing vouchers is fundamental to the fair housing rights of voucher holders, and vital to the proper functioning of the Section 8 program.”
“Attorney General Letitia James is looking out for all New Yorkers — and Westchester residents—by ensuring all have a fair shot when looking for a place to live. We are facing a housing crisis and increasing access to those in need is one step toward solving this longstanding challenge,” said Westchester County Executive George Latimer.
Last year, Attorney General James took action to stop “tenant blacklisting” and partnered with HRI to stop the real estate company Compass from denying housing to low-income New Yorkers. In July 2022, she recovered nearly $300,000 of illegally withheld security deposits for Brooklyn tenants. In April 2022, she sued Brooklyn-based eviction lawyers for engaging in deceptive rent collection practices and initiating frivolous lawsuits against New York tenants.
The Platzner matter is being led by Sandra Giorno-Tocco, Assistant Attorney General for Public Advocacy in the Westchester Regional Office of the Attorney General led by Jill Faber, Deputy Attorney General for Regional Affairs and Jane Landry-Reyes, Assistant Attorney General in the Housing Protection Unit, led by Brent Meltzer, Chief of the Housing Protection Unit. The Housing Protection Unit is a part of the Division for Social Justice, which is led by Chief Deputy Attorney General Meghan Faux and overseen by First Deputy Attorney General Jennifer Levy.
WRO was represented by Mariann Wang and Daniel Mullkoff of Cuti Hecker Wang LLP. WRO’s investigative and enforcement work in this case was made possible by funding from Enterprise Community Partners under the Eliminating Barriers to Housing in New York program and from New York State Homes and Community Renewal.