Gov. Cuomo Signs Human Rights RE Regulatory Bill That Could Lead to License Revocation for Violators

John Jordan | August 2020

Gov. Andrew Cuomo

ALBANY—The fallout from an investigation late last year by Newsday that uncovered housing discrimination practices on Long Island has led to new harsh regulations imposed by New York State, including possible suspension or revocation of a Realtor’s license if found to have violated the state’s Human Rights Law.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Aug. 3 signed a bill (S6874-A/ A8903-A) that explicitly grants the Department of State the authority to discipline real estate professionals found to have violated provisions of the state Human Rights Law by revoking or suspending their license.

State officials note that the bill further reinforces the state’s commitment to combating housing discrimination and strengthens the abilities of the Secretary of State to discipline licensed professionals for discriminatory behavior.

The new law also complements the department’s existing regulations, which authorize the Secretary of State to discipline licensed agents and brokers that have engaged in any unlawful discriminatory practice. The bill signed by the governor went into effect immediately.

On Nov. 17, 2019, Newsday reported the results of an undercover investigation into housing discrimination on Long Island. The probe’s findings included evidence that state officials noted suggest real estate agents on Long Island engaged in discriminatory conduct with “disturbing frequency.” The discriminatory practices included imposing unequal conditions and steering clients toward certain neighborhoods depending on their perceived race or ethnicity.

Immediately following the Newsday report, the governor directed the Division of Human Rights, the Division of Homes and Community Renewal, and Department of State to launch a joint investigation into reports of widespread discrimination among real estate agents on Long Island.

“We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind in New York and the sheer scope and breadth of the unscrupulous and discriminatory real estate practices uncovered on Long Island is repugnant to who we are,” Gov. Cuomo said. “While the federal government is focused on gutting fair housing regulations that have helped so many Americans, we are vastly expanding the state’s ability to crack down on unethical real estate agents and protect hard-working New Yorkers looking for a community to call home.”

The new law was praised by top officials with the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors.

Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors President Gail Fattizzi said, “Housing discrimination is absolutely unacceptable in any shape or form. It’s unfortunate that we have to put these significant sanctions in place to enforce what has long been the law, but I’m glad to see New York State make such a strong statement of zero tolerance.”

Richard Haggerty, chief executive officer of HGAR, added, “As an industry there can be no ambiguity when it comes to our commitment to fair housing. If an agent is found to have violated applicable fair housing laws and engaged in discriminatory activities, they should be out of the business, period.”

In December, 2019, Gov. Cuomo announced new regulations for real estate professionals to help combat discrimination in the housing market statewide. The new regulations, which were approved by the New York State Real Estate Board, mandated enhanced disclosures by real estate professionals to help ensure prospective home buyers, renters, sellers and landlords receive ample information about their rights and protections under New York State law.

The governor also announced several additional initiatives to combat housing discrimination across New York State, which included launching a comprehensive social media campaign and housing discrimination hotline to raise awareness.

He also recently launched a statewide effort to analyze and address segregated living patterns and housing disparities in New York. The state is moving forward with the Fair Housing Matters NY initiative, despite the Trump administration recently stripping away the bedrocks of the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, or AFFH, enacted in 2015, that requires states and local municipalities to analyze and develop meaningful actions to reduce segregated living patterns and concentrated areas of poverty, address unequal access to opportunity in neighborhoods, increase accessibility and strengthen fair housing enforcement.

New York State will continue to adhere to the standards and process set forth by the 2015 regulations with the Fair Housing Matters NY initiative. State officials noted that the goal of the initiative is to solicit input from community leaders, nonprofit organizations, housing professionals and residents on housing choice and access to housing opportunity.

The New York State Association of Realtors Legislative Steering Committee directed NYSAR staff to advocate for its passage during this legislative session.

In its Memorandum of Support, NYSAR stated, “Realtors fundamentally support equal opportunity in housing and are committed in our opposition to all forms of illegal discrimination. We believe codifying the Department of State’s authority to discipline real estate licensees for violations of Fair Housing and Human Rights Laws will benefit New Yorkers and serve to elevate the real estate profession.”

NYSAR noted that the bill by expressly naming Human Rights Law violations in the provisions will therefore clarify the department’s authority and further assist in the advancement of Fair Housing practices across the state.

“Maintaining the integrity of Fair Housing policies in New York is of the utmost importance. NYSAR looks forward to partnering with state lawmakers and state agencies to advance this proposal, as well as other policy proposals such as the fairness in cooperative homeownership act, which seek to eliminate forms of illegal discrimination in the home purchasing process,” NYSAR stated.

Bill sponsor New York State Senator James Gaughran (D-5-Syosset) said, “This law will provide teeth to the enforcement of New York’s Human Rights Law and ensure that real estate agents cannot engage in racist practices like ‘steering’ that deny families the dignity of choosing their home and neighborhood. I thank Governor Cuomo for his swift singing of this bill into law.”

Assemblymember Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-11-Lindenhurst), the sponsor of the Assembly bill, noted, “Homeownership is the cornerstone of the American Dream, yet in this day and age, housing discrimination still persists in our Long Island neighborhoods and across New York. This legislation will help ensure that we are protecting every New Yorker’s freedom to choose where they want to call home and build a future for themselves, regardless of the color of their skin. I look forward to continuing to work on this critical issue with Governor Cuomo and my colleagues in the Legislature, and I applaud and thank the Governor for swiftly signing this bill into law.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth