In October 2015, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the New York State Division of Human Rights adopted new regulations that ban discrimination and harassment against transgender people. The announcement stated: “All public and private employers, housing providers, businesses, creditors, and others should know that discrimination against transgender persons is unlawful and will not be tolerated anywhere in the State of New York.” New York enacted its first Human Rights Law in 1945. Under the new regulations regarding gender identity, the Human Rights Commission may award jobs, housing, and other benefits, as well as civil fines and penalties.
Another New York law that became effective on January 19th, 2016 prohibits discrimination in housing based upon domestic violence victim status. According to S. Anthony Gatto and Liz Celeone, General Counsel and Associate Counsel for the New York State Association of Realtors, Section 227-D of the Real Property Law states: “No person, firm, or corporation or agent of any such entity, owning or managing a building used for dwelling purposes, (referred to as landlords for purposes of this article), shall refuse to rent a residential unit to a person because such person’s or their family member’s domestic violence victim status, when rental would not have been denied had such status not existed.” Gatto and Celeone go on to say, “A violation of any of the provisions of the law, in addition to potential criminal liability, a landlord might also be subject to civil liabilities.”
The governor has also established a task force “to study the impact of source of income on access to housing including, but not limited to, any sex-based impact.”
It should be recognized that state and local governments may add protected classes in addition to federal fair housing laws, and offenders can be prosecuted for all three simultaneously. Suffolk County Human Rights Law already addresses “source of income” as well as transparency in applications for the purchase of shares in a residential cooperative, not currently included in New York Fair Housing Laws. And while there are some exceptions to federal, state, and local fair housing laws for homeowners, they never apply to real estate licensees.
Violation of fair housing laws may result in forced compliance by a court as well as the award of actual and punitive damages to the victim. Even absent actual damages, a court may award punitive damages which by law cannot be covered by insurance.
In addition, if a real estate agent is involved in violation of fair housing laws, it subjects the agent to revocation of their real estate license by the New York Department of State as well as fines and penalties. For the consumer and the real estate professional, ignorance of the law is never an acceptable defense.