Fair housing laws protect individuals from discrimination based on factors like race, color, national origin, religion, sexual orientation (including sexual orientation and gender identity), familial status ( including parental status and source of income*), disability, or any other factor. Housing providers such as developers, landlords, lenders, or brokers should understand fair housing law to operate with integrity.
This week’s fair housing center news includes a housing segregation study and an expansion of New York’s testing program – among many others.
Fair Housing Matters NY
The Fair Housing Center for Civil Rights Investigations (FHCCI) works to stop discrimination in housing by conducting investigations of complaints, filing enforcement actions against violations of the federal Fair Housing Act and state human rights laws, offering educational programs about these laws, and supporting policies that promote inclusiveness.
The federal Fair Housing Act and New York State Human Rights Law prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity, familial status (including pregnant women and individuals with minor children), disability, age, and source of income. Residential segregation perpetuates discrimination and harms people, communities, and economies alike – fuelling housing insecurity, displacement, and other root causes of inequality that exacerbate social, economic, and health inequalities. Affirmatively furthering fair housing means eliminating barriers that limit people’s choice of where they live or work while simultaneously reducing residential segregation by eliminating barriers limiting peoples choice of where they live/work while simultaneously helping communities flourish, and empowering communities to thrive together – ultimately giving everyone equal chances to succeed together as one whole entity.
FHCCI will host an educational event during Fair Housing Month that provides residents with more knowledge on fair housing laws and the protection of their rights. This free event will be open to the public.
Attendees will have an opportunity to ask questions about fair housing law and learn how to report any violations that they suspect, thanks to our Fair Housing In-Practice Workshop Series for real estate developers working with the City’s Office of Housing Preservation and Development (OHPD).
This year’s event will highlight the essential role fair housing laws and policies play in creating an equitable and inclusive city. A panel discussion on fair housing law will include how to file a complaint with HPD’s Fair Housing Hotline, as well as resources available for housing rights protection. Furthermore, speakers will discuss its role in combatting segregation and disparities throughout New York City.
As part of its Fair Housing Legal Support Center initiative, the City offers assistance for residents experiencing discrimination or needing legal advice regarding renting an apartment or purchasing a house – whether due to discrimination in your home, discriminatory leasing practices from landlords, or harassment from landlords; our Legal Support Center can help you understand your rights and offer legal representation without charge.
To arrange an appointment, call 311 or visit the Legal Support Center located in Oneonta’s OHPD headquarters basement from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday-Friday (9-5). For accessibility, please contact (518) 725-4420. Furthermore, the Fair Housing Matters NY website contains numerous housing resources and information, such as an overview of Fair Housing requirements within NYC as well as a complaint process overview.
Fair Housing Testing Program Expansion
New York State recently invested $2.2 million to expand a program that sends undercover testers posing as potential renters and homebuyers to investigate allegations of discrimination in home rental and sales transactions. Governor Kathy Hochul’s office partnered with six non-profit organizations to dispatch these testers directly to homes, apartment complexes, and other locations where allegations of housing discrimination have been reported in home rental transactions or sales transactions. With this investment, proactive investigations will expand, as will education outreach efforts about fair housing rights, including for people with criminal records.
Shopping tests or “secret shopper” tests are an invaluable way of detecting and combatting housing discrimination. When federally-funded fair housing advocacy groups conduct such tests, they send individuals from similar backgrounds and income levels into a property to inquire about housing options as prospective tenants or buyers, then record interactions such as responses received from landlords/agents involved. Once recorded, recordings can then be used to file discrimination complaints against any landlords/agents who engage in improper practices and file housing discrimination complaints against them.
Information obtained through these tests can also provide necessary training and education opportunities for housing providers and consumers to avoid and respond to discriminatory housing practices. Since 1992, the Department of Justice has resolved 111 pattern and practice discrimination cases on this basis alone.
HUD asserts that its proposed rule would remove restrictions in 24 CFR parts 115 and 125 that prohibit FHIP and FHAP grantees from employing testers with criminal convictions or those having committed fraud or perjury as fair housing testers so as not to create undue hardship on small entities and allow FHIP and FHAP funded entities more flexibility when adapting testing strategies and responding to emerging forms of discrimination.
Testing organizations who file fair housing discrimination complaints must provide HUD and respondents with all of their test data that occurred within the period covered by their criticism, regardless of whether its results showed evidence of discrimination. This ensures that all relevant information is available when reviewing housing discrimination cases instead of only considering test outcomes as part of this analysis.
While some organizations may use “hiding” results that don’t support discrimination as an excuse to alter results that don’t support bigotry, the proposed rule provides flexibility that will enable fair housing advocacy groups to conduct comprehensive and practical tests that consider all available information when reviewing housing discrimination cases. This step ensures that appropriate housing testing programs can effectively combat all forms of discrimination while guaranteeing access to safe, affordable homes for everyone.
Sexual Orientation and Housing Discrimination in Michigan Policy Network
Michigan legislators recently passed a bill codifying LGBTQ protections into state civil rights law and outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. A 5-2 ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court last year stated that the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial status, and marital status included protections based on sexual orientation as part of its definition of “sex.”
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed Thursday into law a bill that prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in areas such as renting, selling, or financing for purchasing residential real property or renting community property. Furthermore, this new legislation prohibits discrimination when providing housing services; additionally, it forbids refusing these services altogether.
Dana Nessel and Whitmer participated in a roundtable discussion Friday in Ferndale to address proposed legislation, which includes provisions preventing landlords from using religious exemptions to deny housing to LGBTQ individuals. Whitmer and Nessel asserted that Michigan’s economy would benefit from expanding civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ residents across all sectors, such as housing.
The law expands protections in accordance with the same objective of the federal Fair Housing Act: to stop discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression – similar to how that statute already prohibits any forms of religious discrimination in housing matters.
Nineteen states do not yet have housing discrimination laws that explicitly address sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, although Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, and Western states tend to do better on this front than states heavily controlled by Republicans (i.e., heavily Republican states with state governments controlled by Republicans), according to research done by nonprofit Movement Advancement Project and Foothold Technology.
NAR President Shana Venkataraman recently addressed the Michigan legislature, encouraging lawmakers to pass laws that will ensure fair housing conditions for all Michigan residents. She specifically mentioned NAR’s Code of Ethics, which mandates members to uphold ideals of adequate housing and principles outlined in the Civil Rights Act.
NAR enthusiastically endorses Michigan’s recent anti-discrimination laws to include sexual orientation discrimination as well as its ban on conversion therapy – the practice of trying to alter someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity through counseling and psychoanalytic techniques – in an effort to uphold its commitment to protecting all the rights of its members, tenants, and clients. NAR Legal Affairs staff is available for members who need assistance regarding fair housing issues.