The Fair Housing Justice Center assists individuals and organizations with allegations of illegal housing discrimination. Our intake personnel can help sort out the facts, interview witnesses, review documents, and counsel individuals on their rights and options under all of the fair housing laws.
In some instances, the FHJC may be able to gather additional information by conducting a fair housing testing investigation. Sometimes, testing evidence enables a victim of discrimination to meet his/her burden of proving that unlawful discrimination occurred.
The FHJC can also assist with referral to government enforcement agencies and to cooperating attorneys on a case-by-case basis. Note: the FHJC does not itself provide legal representation for complainants.
All of these services are provided by the FHJC free of charge and without regard to household income.
Fair Housing Laws
Fair housing laws protect all of us from housing discrimination. In the New York region, there are federal, state, and local laws that prohibit discrimination in the rental, sale, insuring, and financing of housing. In addition to these laws, there are fair lending laws that apply to the provision of credit and home mortgage financing. And there are other federal civil rights laws the prohibit housing discrimination when federal financial assistance is involved.
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on:
- National origin
- Familial status
The New York State Human Rights Law includes all of the federally protected characteristics and also prohibits discrimination based on:
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Military status
- Gender identity or expression
- Lawful source of income
Inquiries into arrest records are also impermissible under New York State Human Rights Law. Housing discrimination based on Domestic Violence Victim Status is prohibited under New York State Real Property law.
The New York City Human Rights Law includes all of the federal and state protected characteristics, except military status, and also prohibits discrimination based on:
- Domestic partnership status
- Alienage/citizenship status
- Lawful occupation
- Status as victim of domestic violence, sex offenses, and stalking
Other localities in the New York region have fair housing laws. In Nassau County, discrimination is also prohibited based on lawful source of income, including rental subsides. In Suffolk and Westchester Counties, discrimination is also prohibited based on gender identity, alienage/citizenship status, lawful source of income, and status as victim of domestic violence, sexual abuse and stalking.
What Conduct is Prohibited by Fair Housing Laws?
Discrimination can take many forms and occur at different stages of a housing transaction. Here is a partial list of practices prohibited under fair housing laws:
- Refusing to rent, sell, insure or finance housing, or refusing to negotiate for housing, or otherwise making housing unavailable.
- Advertising or making any statement that indicates a preference, limitation, or discrimination.
- Misrepresenting the availability of housing.
- Steering individuals into or away from certain buildings, parts of buildings, or neighborhoods to segregate populations.
- Discriminating in the terms of conditions of housing or providing unequal services and facilities.
- Refusing to provide a reasonable accommodation by altering rules, policies, practices, or services for persons with disabilities.
- Failing to design and construct new multifamily housing built since 1991 in an accessible manner.
- Refusing to allow a reasonable modification to the premises for persons with disabilities.
- Harassing or failing to take corrective action regarding complaints about harassment.
- Threatening, coercing, intimidating, interfering with or retaliating against a person for assisting others to exercise their fair housing rights.
Housing providers may adopt policies and qualifications for prospective home buyers and renters provided these policies 1) are applied in a uniform and neutral manner to all applicants; 2) do not discriminate based on any of the protected characteristics; and 3) do not have the effect of discriminating against groups of people based on any of the protected characteristics.
What Remedies Are Available Under Fair Housing Laws?
Fair housing laws open doors, break down barriers, and repair the harm caused by discriminatory housing practices. In general, when someone prevails with a housing discrimination complaint, the following types of remedies and penalties are available:
- Court orders or injunctions to stop the illegal discrimination. These orders can require a housing provider to take steps to ensure discrimination will not occur in the future, such as non-discriminatory policies, providing training for agents, affirmative advertising, and similar activities.
- Monetary compensation to be paid to the victim of discrimination for out-of-pocket expenses, economic loss, lost housing opportunity, emotional distress, and other damages.
- Punitive damages and civil penalties to punish the discriminating parties and deter others in the community from discriminating in the future. Punitive damages are paid to the victim of discrimination. A civil penalty is a monetary fine paid to the government.
- Attorney fees and costs can, in most cases, be recovered by prevailing plaintiffs in fair housing cases.
In situations where people have been illegally denied housing, harassed, or threatened with an eviction or non-renewal of a leases for discriminatory reasons, court orders have been issued that enable individuals or families to obtain the housing sought or remain in their current housing.
For direct assistance with a complaint, please call (212) 400-8201. You may also click here to send us a brief note about your complaint and we will get back to you.