BARRISTER'S BRIEFING: ‘Source of Income’ Protections in Westchester County
Leon Cameron, Esq. | April 2017
Based on the calls I receive on the HGAR legal hotline, there is considerable confusion in the local real estate community about the parameters of Westchester County’s “Source of Income” protection law. The law became effective to all tenants, current or prospective, on Dec. 29, 2013. It will sunset on Dec. 29, 2018 unless it is renewed beforehand by the Westchester County legislature. The law gives fair housing protection status for certain current and prospective tenants living within Westchester County.
It places those persons within a legally protected status if their “Source of Income” is any lawful income obtained from:
• Disability or Social Security payments;
- Federal, state, or local public assistance (e.g. WIC payments, food stamps);
- Grant or loan programs, including the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (“HUD”) Housing Choice Voucher Program a.k.a. Section 8; and/or
- Assistance, grants, or loans from a private housing assistance organization.
Examples of discrimination under this law include refusing to rent or lease, or refusing to continue to rent or lease property based upon a tenant’s involvement with the aforesaid programs. Likewise, it is discriminatory for a landlord to make verbal or written assumptions about a tenant’s character based upon their qualification for an assistance program.
Real estate licensees should be aware that there are certain exceptions to the county law. The statute does not apply to landlords and owners of a property that has six or less units. In addition, the county law does not include condominiums and cooperative apartments. However, the law does apply to any person having an ownership interest in multiple buildings, e.g. four single-family houses, three duplexes, etc.
Worthy of note is that it is not discriminatory to inquire into the current or prospective tenant’s level of income, as opposed to source. In addition to total level of income, a landlord may lawfully inquire into a tenant’s credit history, criminal background and previous landlord references, if any. However, landlords must proceed with caution in considering a tenant’s criminal background per HUD’s guidance letter on the topic issued on April 4, 2016. For landlords seeking a course of action in that regard, see the National Association of Realtors’ best practices letter “Fair Housing Act: Criminal History-Based Practices and Policies.” (Available at http://www.nar.realtor/articles/fair-housing-act-criminal-history-based-practices-and-policies).
The legislation provides for civil penalties of up to $50,000 for discriminatory practices on the basis of source of income. It furthermore requires Westchester County as a governmental entity to conduct educational programs for the public on Source of Income discrimination.
Editor’s Note: The foregoing is for information purposes only and does not confer an attorney/client relationship. For a legal opinion or advice specific to your situation, please consult with a private attorney at law.