State to use undercover “renters” to seek out housing discrimination

Legislative Gazette file photo

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a program of undercover testers and new regulations to root out discrimination in real estate.

The undercover program will be administered by New York State Homes and Community Renewal, the state’s affordable housing agency, which will partner with nonprofit groups to dispatch trained fair-housing testers to act as potential renters to uncover unlawful discriminatory treatment by sellers, brokers and landlords. 

HCR is finalizing contracts with six nonprofit fair-housing organizations to conduct testing in New York City, Long Island, Westchester County and the Central New York and Western New York regions.

New regulations also announced on February 26 will require licensed and certified appraisers to receive training on fair housing and fair lending as part of their continuing education requirements. 

These regulations will look to combat housing discrimination and will take effect on Mar. 17.

These reforms will also allow more community-based lenders to offer State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA) loans in low-income communities. This will look to combat redlining and segregated sections of the state by increasing down payment assistance for borrowers in underserved areas and grant SONYMA flexibility so borrowers can remain in their homes in times of crisis.

“Every New Yorker has the right to live in the community of their choice without fear of discriminatory treatment,” said Gov. Cuomo in a press release. “New York’s prohibition of discrimination in home rental and sale transactions isn’t just a suggestion — it’s the law — and any unscrupulous agents who break that law must be held accountable. 

“These new actions build on our ongoing efforts to stop illegal housing practices by finding those bad actors who are subjecting potential renters and buyers to discrimination and putting them on notice, while also making sure real estate appraisers receive the proper training to make fair and unbiased decisions.” 

Through the Fair Housing and the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Acts of 2019, the state enacted new tenant protections, banned income discrimination and prohibited housing providers from denying people applying for housing based on negative credit or past involvement with the criminal justice system.

In New York, we will continue to build more inclusive communities by ensuring fair access to housing opportunities,” said HCR Commissioner RuthAnne Visnauskas. “[We] will make it clear that housing providers must obey the law or be held accountable. With housing insecurity on the rise, we must do all we can to protect New Yorkers from housing discrimination.”