NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — A federal lawsuit has been filed against some of the biggest names in real estate.

Notable firms like Corcoran Group and Century 21 are accused of illegally discriminating against low-income tenants with housing vouchers, CBS2’s Hazel Sanchez reported Monday.

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For years, Nancy Padilla struggled to escape the shelter system because she says landlords and brokers discriminated against her for applying for an apartment with a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher.

“Even though I was qualified and passed the background check, and the credit check. And after paying so much apartment application fees, once they saw the voucher, it was a stop sign. No go further,” Padilla said.

Padilla is far from alone.

An yearlong undercover investigation by the Housing Rights Initiative, or HRI, found 88 landlords and brokers – including notable firms like Compass Inc, Corcoran Group and Century 21 – refused to rent apartments to New Yorkers using rental assistance vouchers.

HRI undercover investigators recorded hundreds of phone calls presenting themselves as prospective tenants with Section 8 vouchers. HRI found real estate professionals illegally refused to rent to voucher holders in nearly 50% of cases.

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“For context, 82% of New Yorkers with housing choice vouchers are Black and Hispanic. So when you discriminate against tenants with rental assistance, you discriminate against tenants of color,” said HRI’s Aaron Carr.

The Legal Aid Society and HRI’s attorneys filed suit against the firms, calling on them to comply with the Fair Housing Act and human rights laws, and to make apartments available to voucher holders.

“I hope this lawsuit can stop anyone else from having to experience what I experienced,” Padilla said.

CBS2 reached out to several of the real estate companies named in the lawsuit. Only Corcoran responded to to our requests for comment.

“The Corcoran Group is committed to upholding the principles of the Fair Housing Act, including offering comprehensive education and training programs for our employees and affiliated sales agents. We take these allegations seriously and cannot comment further on pending litigation,” a Corcoran spokesperson said.

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Hazel Sanchez