Undercover stings, hefty fines part of new get-tough housing discrimination law

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The New York state Senate is set to approve a series of bills aimed at tackling housing discrimination that includes more training for real estate agents and undercover testing program.

There will also be stiffer penalties for anyone who violates
the fair housing laws and compensatory relief for victims of discrimination.

The new laws come following a state investigation sparked by a Newsday report that found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority home buyers across Long Island.

ANDREW STEWART COUSINS

“There is no place in New York for housing discrimination
and predatory practices,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said.
“Buying a new home should be a special achievement in a person’s life without
the risk of becoming a victim of abhorrent discrimination. I am proud of the
Democratic Majority Conference for holding these hearings and issuing an
extensive report that has led this continued swift action to end these
discriminatory practices and hold bad actors accountable.”

The legislation includes:

Annual Covert Fair Housing Testing that requires the
attorney general to conduct annual covert fair housing testing to assess
compliance with fair housing. It would include annual covert investigations to
compare people are treated by the same agent when they are a minority..

Implicit Bias Training requires real estate brokers and
salespersons to receive implicit bias training as part of their license renewal
process.

Compensatory Damages compels the Commissioner of the
Division of Human Rights to award compensatory damages, punitive damages, or
other relief to victims of housing discrimination.

Anti-Discrimination Housing Fund: The legislation would
increase the maximum fine imposed by the Department of State on real estate
licensees to $2,000, and direct 50 percent of the fine collected to a newly
created Anti-Discrimination in Housing Fund to be used by the Attorney General
for fair housing testing and other grants to local agencies and non-profits to
fight housing discrimination.

The legislation includes an obligation on the part of the
state to “Affirmatively Further Fair Housing” and require agents and
brokers to legibly write their name and license number whenever required to
sign a document to make it easier to identify brokers.

It also includes a surcharge to the fee paid for issuing or
reissuing a real estate broker or salesmen license and directs the new funds to
be used for fair housing testing by the Attorney General.

Brokers will also have to compile client demographic data
and submit it to the secretary of state.

Chair of the Senate Committee on Housing, Construction and
Community Development and Bill Sponsor, Senator Brian Kavanagh, said, “I am
very proud of this legislative package, which includes much needed reforms to
ensure effective implementation and compliance with New York State’s fair
housing laws.

“It is my hope that this legislation—and the administrative
reforms we proposed in our recent investigation—will usher in a new era of
equity and justice for homebuyers and renters, and transparency and
accountability in the housing industry, for the benefit of all of our
communities.”

In November 2019, Newsday released an investigative report proving that Black home buyers were being discriminated against. Their report found that real estate agents provided an average of 50 percent more listings than they gave to black counterparts – 39 compared with 26. In response, the legislature took action to pass Senate Bill S.6874A to penalize licensed brokers and salespersons by revoking or suspending their licenses, or issuing a fine if they violate the Human Rights Law, which includes housing discrimination.

Senator Toby Ann Stavisky said, “This legislative package
helps to address the decades of damage caused by discriminatory practices in
our communities. It is not enough for New York to simply condemn these actions,
we need to recognize the lasting negative effects they have on many people and
actively work to build more inclusion into our neighborhoods.

“Fighting for housing equality and deterring those who try
to discriminate not only enriches our communities, but provides more people
access to educational and employment opportunities they may not have otherwise
had.”

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