Discrimination in Residential Lease Transactions – What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

The Commissions on Human Rights and the Housing Preservation and Development in New York City want you to know your legal rights and responsibilities that pertain to fair housing and housing discrimination. Everyone involved in selling, renting or leasing private or public housing must comply with the NYC Human Rights Law, which prohibits discrimination. The Executive Law (Human Rights Law) of New York State also prohibits housing discrimination. Both tenants and those involved in leasing need to know their rights and duties. In situations of discrimination in residential lease transactions – what you don’t know can hurt you.

The New York State Division of Human Rights calls discrimination in housing “an evil that hurts both its victims and society as a whole.” A tenant who is unaware of his rights will lose the opportunity to avail himself of those rights. When a landlord or broker is not well versed in her responsibilities under anti-discrimination laws, she can face penalties for violations committed out of ignorance.

It is illegal to discriminate in residential lease transactions based on a person’s actual or perceived protected status. This means that even if a person does not fall within a protected group, but you think they do, you cannot discriminate against them based on that perceived status.

What Are the Protected Groups?

You are not allowed to treat a person differently, such as refuse to rent to them, because of their:

  • Gender (Single-sex housing such as college dormitories are exempt.)
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marital or partnership status
  • Immigration status
  • National origin
  • Race
  • Color
  • Creed or Religion (There is an exception for some religious institutions)
  • Age (But senior housing can refuse younger people, and senior discounts are allowed in standard housing.)
  • Disability (You are allowed to give discounts to people with disabilities.)
  • Pregnancy
  • Occupation

New York law also prohibits discrimination in residential lease transactions on the grounds that the person has children, receives government assistance, or is a victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking.

What Tenants Need to Know

  • Some types of housing do not have to comply with the state Executive Law. When the owner lives in one unit of a two-family home or in a rooming house, these properties are exempt from following the anti-discrimination housing laws.
  • You can ask for a reasonable accommodation for your disability. An example of this would be requesting that the manager allows you to keep your service or emotional support animal in a building that ordinarily does not allow animals.
  • If more than one unit is available, you have a right to see all of them. As long as you qualify financially, the landlord or broker cannot limit you to a particular area or unit.
  • The landlord must take reasonable action to protect you from discriminatory comments, harassment, or threats, even from other tenants.

What Landlords and Real Estate Agents, Brokers, and Managers Need to Know

When leasing residential property, these five activities are forbidden:

  1. Refusing to accept government rental assistance as payment in a building with six or more units.
  2. Failing to provide equal services to or make adequate repairs for people who fall within a protected group.
  3. Refusing to rent or lease housing to someone because they are a member of a protected category.
  4. Charging a person within a protected group more than others, such as requiring extra payments, higher rent or security deposit, or tacking on additional fees not charged to other tenants who are not members of protected categories.
  5. Limiting the type of tenant you want in advertisements or saying that you will not rent to certain groups of tenants.

Remedies That Are Available for Residential Housing Discrimination

A tenant or prospective tenant who suspects discrimination can file a discrimination complaint with several different local, state, and federal government agencies, asking for damages. The individual can also ask a not-for-profit agency or an attorney to investigate their allegations of discriminatory practices. The person alleging violations can file a lawsuit in either state or federal court.

It can be difficult to determine if someone has been the victim of housing discrimination because people rarely come out and say, for example, that they refuse to rent to minorities. If the investigation uncovers what appears to be a pattern of discrimination, the landlord or manager may be liable.

Posted in: Real Estate Litigation