By: Nick Muscavage, Gannett Albany Bureau
ALBANY -- New York is bolstering efforts to prevent discrimination in rental and housing sales.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the state Division of Human Rights and the Department of State are pursuing new regulations to strengthen housing enforcement efforts in the state.
“These actions will hold housing providers accountable – and we will not hesitate to crack down on those who break the law,” Cuomo said in a statement Sunday. “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.”
The fair housing enforcement program will be comprised of three housing agencies partnered with the state.
These include Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Buffalo; CNY Fair Housing in Syracuse; and Westchester Opportunities in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties.
Under the program, there will be “testers,” or people representing different economic, gender and racial backgrounds going undercover as potential renters or home seekers to check for discrimination. The testers will also include people representing potential renters with disabilities.
The way that landlords and sellers treat the testers will be recorded and analyzed by these fair housing agencies and the state. In addition to landlords and sellers, real estate agents will also be investigated.
The National Association of Realtors has had a fair housing committee as well as a committee on cultural diversity in place for years, according to Toni Connors, president of the Greater Rochester Association of Realtors.
She also said that testers have been in place in the real estate association for decades. “I had my agency back in the late ‘80s, and I know we had testers then,” she said.
Realtors have always tried to be cognizant of fair housing, she said. She noted that every two years realtors are required to go through a fair housing training seminar and brokers train agents to be up to date with any new fair housing regulation.
“I don’t know of any agent that wouldn’t participate with fair housing because our job is to either rent or sell to any renter or buyer who is qualified,” she said.
Discrimination against renters or buyers in the housing industry is already illegal under the state human rights law and state fair housing law — passed in the 1940s — but this initiative will set up a new partnership between fair housing agencies and the state to go a step further to ensure this law is being followed, state officials said.
If a seller, landlord or agent is found breaking this law, based on the severity, there could be sanctions placed, licenses revoked and fines issued.
“We just announced 120 cases that have been reconciled, which when you go through these cases, these were dramatic cases, so clearly the law is still being violated -- and it’s not acceptable,” Cuomo said in an interview with reporters after the program’s announcement on Sunday.
Of the over 120 cases settled in 2015 over landlord and seller discrimination, 31 were from the Hudson Valley, nine were from the Finger Lakes, eight were from western New York and four were from the Southern Tier.
Among the cases was a woman in Rochester who said the broker at a real estate firm denied her application for an apartment based on her race, resulting in the broker having to pay money for damages, according the governor’s office.
In another case, a couple in Rye, Westchester County, claimed they were denied an apartment in a co-op because they had three children. After the investigation, the couple received a monetary settlement.
In Ossining, Westchester County, a woman received a settlement due to her building manager refusing her request for a wheelchair accessible ramp for her disabled daughter, Cuomo's office said.
“Housing discrimination is not just unethical, it’s not just immoral, it’s also illegal. Landlords cannot discriminate, brokers cannot discriminate,” Cuomo said.
For more information or to file a complaint, visit: www.dhr.ny.gov or call 1-888-392-3644.