February 14, 2016

Former Governor Cuomo Announces Initiative to Strengthen State's Anti-Discrimination Efforts

Former Governor Cuomo Announces Initiative to Strengthen State's Anti-Discrimination Efforts
Fair Housing Enforcement Program launched to root out discrimination in rental and home sale transactions
123 complaints resolved for victims of housing discrimination

Former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of a Fair Housing Enforcement Program – a groundbreaking initiative to uncover discrimination in rental and home sale transactions. Additionally, the Governor has directed the Division of Human Rights and the Department of State to propose new regulations to strengthen the state’s housing enforcement efforts on behalf of all New Yorkers. These initiatives are the latest aggressive actions to protect the state’s most vulnerable individuals from illegal housing practices. The Governor also released findings from 123 housing complaints that resulted in settlements for individuals who allegedly experienced housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, disability and familial status.

“The simple, painful truth is that for all our progress in creating a better society, discrimination is still alive and well in America today. We will not stand for it in New York,” said Former Governor Cuomo. “These actions will hold housing providers accountable – we will not hesitate to crack down on those who break the law. We will do everything we can to root out discrimination where it shows its ugly presence in order to create stronger and more inclusive communities statewide.”

Fair Housing Enforcement Program

To uncover discrimination in home rental and sale transactions and ensure housing providers comply with these laws, the Governor today launched the Fair Housing Enforcement Program. Three fair housing agencies have been hired to partner with the state to complete the enforcement program: Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) in Buffalo, CNY Fair Housing in Syracuse, and Westchester Residential Opportunities in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.

Under this new program, the Division of Homes and Community Renewal will work to safeguard the rights of all New Yorkers using trained fair housing “testers” with diverse racial, gender, and economic backgrounds, who also represent parents, and persons with disabilities. These testers will act as potential renters or home seekers and will test for discriminatory bias amongst sellers and landlords. Testers will work in teams and will present similar incomes and career profiles to real estate agents and owners in an effort to obtain housing. The treatment the testers receive will be documented and the results analyzed. When possible discrimination is uncovered it will be investigated and prosecuted. The fair housing enforcement will also include investigations of real estate agents, owners and landlords who are all prohibited from discriminating in the rental or sale of housing in New York State.

Under both the Federal Fair Housing Act and New York’s Human Rights Law, it is illegal to discriminate in the sale, rental, or leasing of housing based on disability, race, color, national origin, or familial status. The law applies to housing providers, landlords and managing agents, as well as real estate agents and brokers. Housing providers must also make reasonable modifications and accommodations to allow people with disabilities the full use and enjoyment of their homes. When housing providers fail to comply with federal and state civil rights laws, protected classes such as racial minorities and people with disabilities face trying to find shelter within an even smaller pool of possible places to live.

“Denying access to housing, whether it is through discrimination or harassment driven by greed, is unconscionable and illegal,” said HCR Commissioner James S. Rubin. “HCR, through this new Fair Housing Enforcement Program and the ongoing activities of the Governor’s Tenant Protection Unit, is moving proactively to uphold the law. To make it crystal clear: discriminatory practices are always abhorrent and will be investigated and prosecuted.”

“Westchester Residential Opportunities works on behalf of communities and individuals to expand access to non-discriminatory housing,” said Geoffrey Anderson, Executive Director, Westchester Residential Opportunities, Inc. “We are delighted that this partnership with Governor Cuomo and the State of New York will further our shared mission to eliminate illegal housing discrimination. Individuals and families in need of housing should be welcome wherever they choose to live.”

“HOME has been at work since 1963, helping people gain access to housing opportunities that work for them,” said Scott Gehl, Executive Director, Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOMENY). “We share the Governor’s commitment to fair and equitable housing access – a landlord’s prejudices or initial perception of a tenant are no basis for denying housing.”

“CNY Fair Housing’s central goal is to create and sustain diverse neighborhoods,” said Sally Santangelo, Executive Director, CNY Fair Housing. “We do this is through advocacy, education and enforcement efforts, and careful and thorough testing of the residential real estate market. The housing sector is as susceptible to the practice of discrimination as any other – wittingly or unwittingly. We are proud to work with the Governor on this concerted effort to identify and break down barriers to fair housing.”

Regulations to Strengthen Enforcement against Housing Discrimination

The proposed regulations from the New York State Division of Human Rights will clarify that it is an unlawful practice under the State Human Rights Law to discriminate against individuals because of their relationship or association with members of a protected class. These regulations will ensure that all New Yorkers know that they have the right to rent or buy residential or commercial space, or patronize such places as stores, restaurants or theaters, regardless of the race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other protected characteristic of their family members, associates, or clients.

For example, a mother seeking housing may not be denied an apartment because of the race or disability of her child. A renter may not be evicted or denied equal terms because of the race, creed, national origin or sexual orientation, of the renter’s friends who visit the apartment. An individual who provides services to immigrants may not be discriminated against because of the creed or national origin of his or her clients, with regard to renting a residential apartment, or renting office space for providing those services. A medical practice providing health care services specializing in HIV/AIDS-related medical conditions cannot be denied commercial space, or given unequal terms or condition of a lease, because of the nature of the clients’ disabilities.

These regulations will apply beyond seeking housing and commercial properties, to all protected areas under the Human Rights law, including public accommodations, employment, and credit. With regard to public accommodations, such as restaurants, stores or movie theaters, if a group of patrons experience discrimination because of the race or other protected characteristic of some member of the group, then all members of the group will have a viable claim for discrimination.

Also, at the Governor's direction, the Department of State will promulgate regulations to specify that discriminatory conduct is prohibited by law and the Department will move to revoke the license of any real estate broker or salesperson that has been found to have engaged in discriminatory conduct by any city, state or federal agency or court of competent jurisdiction. The Department of State will also advise the real estate industry of the new regulations and develop detailed guidance informing real estate brokers and salespeople of their obligations under law. In 2015, according to the New York State Association of Realtors, New York realtors closed more than 116,000 residential real estate sales and maintained more than 100,000 active listings at the end of the year.

Division of Human Rights Commissioner Helen Diane Foster said: “Access to housing is a basic human right and we want all New Yorkers to know that if they have been victimized, the Division will use every means at its disposal to ensure they are afforded their rights and that housing providers understand their obligations under the State’s Human Rights Law.”

Complaints Resolved on Behalf of Victims of Housing Discrimination

The New York State Division of Human Rights recently reached settlements on 123 cases filed with the state alleging housing discrimination in 2015, resulting in damages for victims, as well as additional non-monetary benefits such as rent abatements, rent payment reductions, improved housing conditions and reasonable modifications such as ramps and accessible entrances for individuals with disabilities. These resolutions are informing the Governor’s efforts to crack down on violations and protect individuals against illegal housing practices. The scope of claims and trends in the regions will inform the state-wide enforcement program. On average more than 500 housing discrimination cases are filed with federal, state and local authorities.

A regional breakdown of these 123 cases is below – note that some cases had complaints involving more than one basis of discrimination.

Housing discrimination based on race

DHR resolved 41 housing discrimination complaints based on race, color or national origin. Of those, 17 cases were from New York City, nine were from the Hudson Valley, seven were from Long Island, three were from Finger Lakes Region, three were from the Capital Region, one was from Central NY, and one was from Western NY.

These settlements include:

  • A potential tenant in Rochester filed a complaint alleging that a broker at a real estate firm denied her the opportunity to view and apply for an apartment because of her race, and made false assertions of unavailability to dissuade her from pursuing the unit. The broker was required to pay money damages.
  • An African-American mother of three alleged in her complaint that the management of the apartment building where she resides in Suffolk County refused to place her on a three-bedroom waiting list, while other Caucasian residents received immediate transfers to those units. As part of the settlement, management returned her security deposit and paid for moving expenses.

Housing discrimination against persons with disabilities

DHR resolved 91 housing discrimination complaints filed by individuals with disabilities statewide. Of those, 34 cases originated from New York City, 16 from the Hudson Valley, 15 from Long Island, nine were from the Capital Region, five were from Western NY, four were from the Finger Lakes, four were from the Southern Tier, two were from the Mohawk Valley, one was from Central NY, and one was from the North Country.

Among the most notable cases are:

  • A woman from Ossining received monetary damages to settle a complaint that alleged her building management denied her request to put a ramp in the building which would make it accessible for her daughter who uses a wheelchair due to her disability.
  • A tenant in Saratoga Springs alleged that her landlord refused to renew her lease because she uses a cane and has multiple physical disabilities. She also alleged that the landlord refused to provide her with a handicap-accessible parking space. The landlord was required to pay money damages and excused a prior judgment it had taken against the tenant.

Housing discrimination against women

DHR resolved 26 complaints based on discrimination against families with children and pregnant women. Of those, eleven cases were from New York City, six were from the Hudson Valley, four were from Long Island, two were from the Finger Lakes Region, two were from Western New York, and one was from Central NY.

Among the most notable cases are:

  • A couple alleged that they were denied the opportunity to purchase an apartment in a Rye co-op because they had three minor children. During the course of the investigation evidence was found indicating that no children lived in the co-op. The couple received a monetary settlement to resolve the matter.
  • A woman alleged that she was denied the opportunity to rent an apartment in Suffolk County because the landlord and realtor thought her infant child’s crying would disturb the upstairs neighbors. The landlord paid monetary damages to resolve the case.

New York has the proud distinction of being the first state in the nation to enact a Human Rights Law, which affords every citizen “an equal opportunity to enjoy a full and productive life.” The Division of Human Rights is the agency in charge of enforcing this law, which prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, places of public accommodation, credit, and other jurisdictions, based on age, race, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, disability, military status, and other specified classes. For more information about the law and the work of the agency, please visit the Division of Human Rights’ website at www.dhr.ny.gov or call 1-888-392-3644.