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Landlord Obligations Under New York State Human Rights Law, by Jennifer Sherven, Esq., 6-13-2024

Posted Jun 13, 2024

Housing discrimination has become a hot-button issue in New York. It continues to draw the attention of lawmakers, and public and private housing rights organizations, who are making a concerted effort to crack down on housing bias and discrimination.  Among those efforts, Governor Kathy Hochul just last year announced a $2.2-million expansion of New York’s Fair Housing Testing Program designed to root out discrimination in home rental and sale transactions.

For landlords and property owners/managers, this makes compliance with state and local fair housing laws critical.

Fair Housing Under NYS Human Rights Law

In New York State, the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) makes it illegal to discriminate in the sale, rental, or leasing of housing because of a protected characteristic.

These characteristics include race/color, creed, sex (including sexual orientation, gender identify, and sexual harassment), age, disability/handicap, national original, religion, marital status, military status, familial status, arrest record, lawful source of income, domestic violence victim status, and citizenship/immigration status. 

According to the NYS Division of Human Rights, it is illegal to do the following because of a protected characteristic:

  • Refuse to sell, rent, or lease housing;
  • Discriminate in the terms, conditions, or privileges in the sale, rental, or lease of housing;
  • Discriminate in providing facilities or services in connection with the sale, rental, or lease of housing;
  • Print or circulate a statement, advertisement, or publication expressing a limitation, specification, or discrimination in the sale, rental, or lease of housing;
  • Use an application for housing that expresses any limitation, specification, or discrimination in the sale, rental, or lease of housing;
  • Make any record or inquiry in connection with the prospective purchase, rental, or lease of housing that expresses any limitation, specification, or discrimination;
  • Discriminate against a person with a disability because of their use of a service animal or emotional support animal.

The NYSHRL was amended in April 2019 by the Lawful Source of Income Non-Discrimination Act to protect those who rely on any lawful source of income from discrimination in housing. Lawful sources of income include, but are not limited to, child support, alimony or spousal maintenance, foster care subsidies, social security benefits, and federal, state, or local public assistance or housing assistance including Section 8 and other vouchers.

The NYSHRL also prohibits any form of retaliation against someone for opposing housing discrimination, filing a complaint, etc.It is important to keep in mind that, in addition to state housing laws, landlords and property owners must also make sure they do not run afoul of the federal Fair Housing Act, and local fair housing laws in New York City, Long Island, and Westchester.

Reasonable Accommodations for Persons with Disabilities

According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, discrimination based on disability accounted for the majority (53.26%) of fair housing complaints filed nationally in 2022 (latest available). In New York, disability discrimination also accounts for the largest number of complaints – 700 out of 1,904 (37%), according to the Fair Housing Justice Center.

Under the NYSHRL, housing providers are obligated to make reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications to a building to meet the needs of persons with disabilities. This may include:

  • Removing architectural barriers;
  • Providing accessible parking; and
  • Waiving applicable pet policies for persons who have a disability-related need for a covered service or support animal.

Preventative Steps

Given the obligations that landlords and property owners face, below are some proactive steps to consider:

  • Familiarize yourself with applicable federal, state, and local fair housing laws;
  • Implement policies and procedures compliant with applicable federal, state, and local fair housing laws;
  • Train staff on policies and procedures and updates to fair housing laws;
  • Be consistent in the manner in which you interact with residents and prospective residents;
  • Avoid questions and comments that may be interpreted as discriminatory;
  • Document interactions with residents and potential residents, including when requests for accommodations are made; and,
  • Have a documented method to screen and accept applicants.

Kaufman Dolowich Can Help: 

Kaufman Dolowich attorneys can assist with fair housing compliance including:

  • Defending landlords and property managers against housing discrimination lawsuits.
  • Responding to HUD, state, and local agency investigations.
  • Assessing policies and practices to ensure compliance to minimize the risk of complaints.
  • Training staff concerning applicable federal, state, and local fair housing laws.
  • Assisting with accommodation requests.

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