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Fair Housing & Discrimination: What New Yorkers Should Know

Posted by Melvin Monachan | Jan 09, 2020 | 0 Comments

In New York (as elsewhere in the United States), discrimination in housing is unlawful. Federal, state, and local housing laws work to ensure housing opportunities are fair and equal. This doesn't mean just anyone can get housing, but the process and requirements must be fair and applied the same across the board. 

Here's what you should know if you are a New Yorker looking for a new home anywhere throughout New York City.

What constitutes discrimination in housing in New York?

There are three levels of laws that govern fair housing in New York: 

  1. federal Fair Housing Act;
  2. New York State Human Rights Law; and
  3. New York City Human Rights Law.

Each provides certain characteristics that are protected – and if discrimination is based on one of these characteristics, then it is illegal discrimination. You may have been denied an opportunity for housing, and if you learn or believe it was because of unlawful discrimination, you can sue or file a complaint.

The defendant may have to compensate the victim and/or pay fines and other forms of penalties. 

Federal Fair Housing Act

According to federal law, it is illegal to discriminate against potential new homeowners or renters based on their:

  • race (i.e., discrimination based on socially-defined categories of a person's background) 
  • color (i.e., discrimination based on the color or tone of a person's skin)
  • national origin (e.g., immigrants from Pakistan versus Norway)
  • familial status (e.g., have children under the age of 18)
  • religion (e.g., Christians over atheists, Muslims, Jews, or Hindus, etc., and vice versa)
  • disability (physical or mental); or
  • sex (male versus female).

New York State Human Rights Law

Under New York's Human Rights Law, all of the above-listed characteristics are also protected. But the New York State Human Rights Law adds a few more characteristics:

  • creed;
  • age;
  • sexual orientation;
  • marital status; and
  • military status.

This law makes discrimination unlawful when it is in connection with the sale, rental, or leasing of a housing unit, including

  • refusal to sell, lease, or rent;
  • discriminatory language or processes related to the terms or conditions;
  •  denying facilities or services;
  • publications that express limitations or discrimination in the sale, rental, or lease of housing;
  • applications that are discriminatory;
  • record request or inquiries to determine characteristics to discriminate against; and
  • other similar discriminatory acts.

Persons or entities who must follow the New York Human Rights Act (as well as federal and local laws) include:

  • owners
  • managing agents
  • real estate brokers
  • real estate agents
  • tenants
  • subtenants; and
  • agents and employees of any of the above.

New York City Human Rights Law

There are many local laws that extend the protections afforded under the fair housing laws. New York City Human Rights Law is no exception. It adds to the protected categories the following:

  • gender;
  • citizenship status;
  • partnership status;
  • gender identity;
  • lawful occupation; and
  • lawful source of income (e.g., public assistance, unemployment benefits, etc.).

Other local laws, like in Buffalo, West Seneca, and Nassau County, offer some of the same additional protections, particularly with regard to source of income.

What should you do if you believe you have been discriminated against?

If you believe you have been a victim of housing discrimination, you have rights and you are entitled to file a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). You may want to contact an experienced real estate attorney in New York first to know exactly the nature of your rights and the viability of the complaint as well as to make sure the complaint is comprehensively drafted and supported with proper documentation.

Getting the best representation could mean the difference between getting your rights upheld or not. 

About the Author

Melvin Monachan

Melvin Monachan is the founder of The Law Office of Melvin Monachan, PLLC, a full service, real estate law firm representing individuals, investors and corporate entities in all aspects of real estate law. On the transactional side, Melvin represents purchasers and...


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