Real Estate Agents in New York State are required to complete three hours of training in federal, state, and local Fair Housing laws every two years as a requisite to renewing their real estate licenses. Suffolk County Human Rights Law is particularly aggressive in insuring that everyone has equal rights to satisfy the basic need for housing. Of course, equal rights laws do not ensure equal opportunity. Financial means is just one practical consideration that affects the ability to find suitable housing.
In 2009, Suffolk County passed a law requiring that every residential cooperative develop a standardized application for the purchase of the co-op shares, within 10 days acknowledge receipt of the application, and within 45 days provide the applicant with written notice of approval or, if rejected, the reasons for the rejection. A similar law pending before the State Legislature would apply statewide.
A law already in effect in New York City, also pending before the State Legislature and going into effect in Suffolk County in January, prohibits landlords and real estate brokers from discriminating against prospective tenants based on source of income. Income sources include Social Security, federal, state, and local public assistance, or housing assistance including the Housing Choice Voucher Program commonly referred to as Section Eight. The law in Suffolk exempts housing accommodations of fewer than three units unless the landlord owns three units anywhere in Suffolk County.
The Housing Choice Voucher Program is a Federal Program administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) on the federal level and by local housing authorities, such as those in the Towns of Southampton, East Hampton, Shelter Island, and Riverhead, or non-profit organizations such as the North Fork Housing Alliance in Greenport. The impact that the new law will have in Suffolk County, including the Hamptons and North Fork, remains to be seen.
Under the Section 8 Program, a tenant who qualifies for a Housing Choice Voucher is not permitted to pay more than 30% of their income towards rent. The landlord receives the difference from HUD up to what HUD considers the fair-market rent. If the landlord can get more than what HUD is willing to pay, the landlord does not have to accept the lower rent. What is also true is that in the five towns of Eastern Long Island, the waiting lists for prospective applicants are currently closed. Prior to the downturn in the economy, HUD estimated that there were four eligible applicants for each available unit of Section 8 housing. That number is probably higher today. The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that the federal government has cut HUD’s funding for the Section 8 Program. In addition, the overwhelming majority of housing units in Suffolk County are owner-occupied as opposed to rentals, and unlike Nassau County and New York City, does not have rent regulation laws, so most of the rental housing that is available is at fair market rents.
Author’s Note: In 2008, in the case of Recalde v. Bae Cleaners, Inc., the New York County Supreme Court effectively extended Fair Housing Law protections to possible illegal aliens. The court basically said that it is not the responsibility or the purview of the landlord to inquire as to the tenant’s compliance with immigration laws. Courts outside of New York, including a Pennsylvania Federal court, have reached similar conclusions.