Sunday, December 23, 2012

Source of Income Discrimination in New York


Source of Income discrimination in housing means not offering rental housing equally to those who wish to pay their rent by way of housing choice vouchers, Social Security, unemployment insurance, veteran's benefits, or other governmental subsidy. 

While neither the Federal Fair Housing Act nor the New York Human Rights Law makes Source of Income a protected class, many municipal laws do. Additionally, S83-2011 proposes to add this protected class to the New York Human Rights Law. To read the bill, click here.

The bill's JUSTIFICATION states as follows:
"Currently, New York State law does not prevent landlords from discrimination based on a person's source of income. As a result, landlords often reject tenants with rental subsidies, such as Section 8 and subsidies tied to the Nursing Facility Transition and Diversion and Traumatic Brain Injury Medicaid Waivers. Many people with disabilities rely on those subsidies and other assistance programs to live independently in the community. This legislation would make discrimination by landlords based on a tenant's source of income illegal under New York State Human Rights Law. Similar laws have already been passed in New York City and Nassau.

This topic recently came to the forefront as New York City’s Human Rights Law does make source of income a protected class and an individual, Keith Short, who believed that he was discriminated against brought a claim thereunder. In pursuing his claim, Keith Short sued MANHATTAN APARTMENTS, INC., ABBA Realty Associates, Inc., Soni Realty LLC, Kimberly Place Realty Corp., and Askarinam Realty, Inc. Mr. Short claimed that the Defendants refused to rent to him because he had acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and received public housing subsidies. Mr. Short’s subsidy was from HIV/AIDS Services Administration (“HASA”). Mr. Short claimed that as a result of the discrimination he experienced several months of homelessness as wells as emotional distress. The Court awarded Mr. Short $20,000 as a result of the discrimination.

Now, we are often asked about discrimination and what is permitted and what isn’t. The rule is you can discriminate against anyone you want for any reason you want unless the discrimination falls into a protected class. Be mindful that while there is a Federal Law, the Fair Housing Act and a New York State Law, the Human Rights Law, both of which have their own set of protected classes, many municipalities such as New York City have far more expansive laws with a multitude of additional classes. It is the duty of a real estate agent to know the laws in the municipality where you work. Be careful not to discriminate. Also, pay attention to the bill to modify the State’s Human Rights Law because one day it is likely that source of income will be a protected class throughout the State as it becomes a more and more visible form of discrimination.