What is housing discrimination?

 Under federal, New York State, and/or New York City fair housing laws, it is illegal to discriminate in the rental, sale or finance of housing because of race, color, national origin, religion, disability, family status, sex (including sexual harassment), sexual orientation, marital status, age, military status, gender identity, lawful occupation, citizenship status, domestic partnership status, and source of income.

In addition, local fair housing ordinances exist in Rockland, Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties. Nassau County additionally prohibits housing discrimination based on source of income. Westchester County also prohibits housing discrimination against victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, or stalking.

It is illegal housing discrimination to coerce, intimidate, threaten, interfere with or retaliate against anyone who is exercising his or her fair housing rights or anyone assisting another person to exercise his or her fair housing rights, including filing a housing discrimination complaint.

For more information on fair housing laws and prohibited practices, you may read the FHJC’s Brochure in English or Spanish.

What type of housing is covered by fair housing laws?

Most housing, whether it is privately or publicly owned, is covered by fair housing laws, but there are a few narrow exemptions that vary depending on the specific law and facts of each situation. This means that housing not covered by one fair housing law may be covered by another. If you think that you may have been discriminated against, then contact the FHJC and we can help you evaluate whether the housing involved in your situation is covered by a federal, state, or local fair housing law.

What can I do if I think I have been discriminated against?

If you believe you have been discriminated against, you should contact the FHJC as soon as possible. The FHJC provides fair housing counseling so that you know what your rights and options are under fair housing laws. The FHJC provides investigative assistance (including testing) and may be able to assist you by gathering evidence that will enable you to meet your burden of proof under the law. The FHJC can assist with referrals to government enforcement agencies and to cooperating attorneys on a case-by-case basis. If you have encountered unlawful housing discrimination, contact the FHJC to find out what you can do to protect and exercise your civil rights.

**Please note that in-person appointments with the FHJC are by appointment only.  To report discrimination, please call 212-400-8201 or fill out our form.

How will I know if I am being unlawfully discriminated against?

Some housing discrimination is blatant and obvious, but housing discrimination can also be very subtle and difficult to detect. If you suspect that you may have been discriminated against, contact the FHJC and we can discuss your situation in more detail. Not all “unfair” treatment constitutes illegal housing discrimination under fair housing laws. Let our intake personnel help you sort out the facts. In some instances, we may be able to gather additional information by conducting a fair housing testing investigation.

What is fair housing testing?

Fair housing testing is an investigative tool used to gather evidence of housing discrimination. Generally, testing refers to the use of individuals who, without bona fide intent to rent or purchase a home, apartment, or other dwelling, pose as a prospective renter or home seeker for the purpose of gathering information which may indicate whether a housing provider is complying with fair housing laws. Sometimes testing investigations yield evidence that may enable complainants to meet their burden of proving illegal discrimination occurred. Testing can also be used to identify and challenge more subtle forms of housing discrimination that may be restricting housing opportunities for different populations within a community. FHJC’s testing program is called the “Acting for Justice” program. To read more about our testing program, see Partnerships.

What if I know housing discrimination is occurring, but it has not personally happened to me?

If you have information that illegal housing discrimination is occurring, please contact the FHJC as soon as possible. You do not need to personally be the victim of such discrimination to report it. The FHJC also accepts anonymous tips from individuals who possess information about possible housing discrimination. If you are a current or former employee of a real estate company, rental management office, coop or condo board, lending institution, or other housing provider and you have information about discriminatory housing practices, we encourage you to contact our office. All of us have a responsibility to end illegal housing discrimination and make sure that our communities are open to everyone.

Who is eligible for FHJC services and what is FHJC’s service area?

Any individual or organization who wants to report housing discrimination that has occurred in New York City, or in the surrounding areas including Dutchess, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Suffolk, and Westchester County is eligible for FHJC services. FHJC services are free of charge and available regardless of income. Unfortunately, due to limited resources, the FHJC is unable to assist everyone within our service area. However, if we determine that we are unable to provide the type of assistance that is needed, we will refer you to public fair housing enforcement agencies.

What are the penalties for housing discrimination?

Individuals or companies who violate fair housing laws may be ordered to pay compensatory and punitive monetary damages to the victims of discrimination, make housing available, change discriminatory policies and take steps to prevent future discrimination, pay civil fines to a government agency, and pay attorneys fees and court costs.

Why file a housing discrimination complaint?

By exercising your fair housing rights you can stop housing discrimination, obtain relief from the harm discrimination has caused, and create future policies that expand housing opportunities for others in your community. Your complaint may prevent others from having to endure the insult, humiliation, and harm that typically results from an act of housing discrimination. When you exercise your rights and challenge illegal housing discrimination, you also honor all those who tirelessly struggled, sacrificed, and even died to obtain the legal right to fair housing.

Is housing discrimination still a problem in New York?

Yes. The New York City metropolitan area is the 2nd most racially segregated for Latinos and Asians and the 3rd most segregated for African Americans. This is based on a dissimilarity index using 2010 Census data applied to the 50 metropolitan areas with the largest African American, Latino and Asian populations in the United States and produced by John Logan at Brown University for the American Communities Project and the Russell Sage Foundation. Systemic housing discrimination based on race, national origin, disability and other protected characteristics is still pervasive and continues to prevent populations from obtaining housing on an equal basis. Since opening our doors in April 2005, the FHJC has handled hundreds of allegations of illegal housing discrimination and assisted many to file administrative complaints, as well as state and federal lawsuits. (Read about some of our Case Highlights or read our latest Progress Report). The FHJC believes that one way to address this persistent problem of housing discrimination is to ensure that fair housing laws are vigorously enforced and encourage all people to exercise their fair housing rights.

Are there specific protections under fair housing laws for people with disabilities?

Yes. Housing providers must agree to make reasonable changes to housing rules, policies, practices, or services when such changes are necessary to permit a person with a mental or physical disability equal opportunity to access, use, and enjoy a dwelling unit. Housing providers must agree to permit physical modifications to a building or dwelling unit when such modifications would permit a person with a disability to access, use, and enjoy a dwelling unit. However, the question of who must pay the cost of the modification depends on which laws cover the situation.

For more information about reasonable accommodation, please read the U.S. Department of Justice and HUD’s Joint Statement on Reasonable Accommodation. http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/library/huddojstatement.pdf

Also, all multifamily housing designed and constructed after 1991 must comply with accessibility requirements found in the federal Fair Housing Act. For more information on the seven accessibility guidelines for new construction of multifamily buildings, see http://www.fairhousingfirst.org/

Does FHJC help people find housing?

No. The FHJC does not operate a housing search program or directly assist people to locate housing.

Are there things I can do to avoid being discriminated against when searching for housing?

First of all, you should know that many housing providers provide training and work hard to ensure that their agents comply with fair housing laws so you should not automatically assume that you will encounter housing discrimination. While there is nothing you can do to prevent discrimination from happening, there are some steps that you can take during your housing search to protect yourself in the unfortunate event that you do encounter illegal discrimination:

  1. Save receipts, copies of advertisements or listings, rental applications, correspondence, financing information, and business cards that you accumulate during your search.
  2. Keep a journal or take detailed notes during your search to keep track of the different places and properties you visit, the agents you contact, and the dates when you have contact with agents during your search. The FHJC can also provide you with a copy of our latest Rental Search Log in English or Spanish so that you can keep track of your housing search.
  3. Whenever you have contact with a housing provider, obtain the name of the person you are speaking with early in the conversation. If discriminatory comments are made or you observe conduct that might suggest unlawful housing discrimination, contact the FHJC as soon as possible.

Where can I learn about my fair housing rights?

For more information on fair housing laws and prohibited practices, you may read the FHJC’s Brochure in English or Spanish.