Blocks & Lots

Fair housing laws in NYC: Why it is important for buyers to know them

Housing discrimination in a progressive and diverse place like New York City might seem like a non-issue in 2019. That’s not the case. According to the National Fair Housing Alliance, New York City ranks third in the most segregated cities in the nation for African Americans. It ranks second for Latin Americans and Asian Americans. The Fair Housing Act means makes it illegal to discriminate on a person seeking to buy or rent an apartment/house on the basis of race, color, gender, familial status, religion, sex, or country of origin or because they are a member of any protected class of people.

How discrimination plays out in NYC

Money is often at the root of discrimination. The high price of real estate in New York City, along with its limited supply puts marginalized communities at a disadvantage. A practice known as “redlining” was particularly pervasive in NYC in the 1940’s and ’50’s. It put black families at a disadvantage when seeking home loans. The results are manifested in New York City’s segregated neighborhoods today. So, The Fair Housing Act, which was passed in 1968, a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King, works in conjunction with other anti-discriminatory laws to provide a shield against discrimination.

Other anti-discrimination laws New Yorkers should be aware of

The NY State Human Rights Law protects against discrimination for illegal aliens, non-citizens, domestic partners, gender identity, lawful occupation, lawful source of income (including public assistance/housing assistance, social security, supplemental security income, pensions, or unemployment benefits), victims of domestic violence, sex offenses, or stalking.

How Fair Housing laws impact buying a home

When a home buyer engages a sales agent or broker there are certain things a real estate professional cannot say, regardless of how knowledgable they are about a neighborhood.

Firstly, and perhaps most obviously, it is illegal for agent to engage in any conduct that could be considered discriminatory. An agent cannot comment on things a buyer might think are quite innocuous such as asking if a neighborhood has a specific type of place of worship or the age group of residents. Of course, questions about race, political persuasion cannot be answered. 

New York City has neighborhoods and communities which are distinct and often celebrated because of their ethnic make up. However, it is illegal for an agent to say things that could be construed as discriminatory: “I think you’ll like this neighborhood,” or “Are you sure you’d like to buy in that neighborhood?” That is known as “steering” and if an agent is found guilty of doing it, no matter how innocent their intentions they could lose their license.

Jeff Vasishta