As the housing market continues to fluctuate wildly, lawmakers in Albany, New York are hoping to address one age old problem in the real estate industry. The New York State Assembly recently passed a legislative package geared towards addressing discrimination in the real estate market.
“The Assembly Majority has long been committed to ensuring that every New Yorker has equitable access to housing,” said New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Housing discrimination has evolved since the fair housing movement, but it is still disturbingly pervasive and damaging to New Yorkers. Discrimination that was once overt has become more implicit and subtle, and this legislation will help us address it head on.”
While the 1968 Fair Housing Act was the federal answer to protecting people from discrimination in the real estate market, more subtle practices of discrimination continue to persist in the modern real estate industry. The legislation passed by the New York State Assembly aims to attack these more subtle mechanisms and create a system for accountability against those conducting such practices.
“We must work as a state to overcome historic patterns of discrimination and segregation,” Housing Committee Chair Steven Cymbrowitz noted. “By creating an obligation to affirmatively further fair housing for all state agencies and localities administering housing-related programs and laws, New York will no longer participate in harmful and discriminatory practices, and will instead actively seek to create more diverse and inclusive communities.”
The legislative package aims to address the disparate treatment of minority homebuyers and minority communities in real estate transactions. Included in the package is a measure that would require real estate brokers to establish standardized operating procedures and practices designed to ensure that all prospective buyers are treated equitably.
“It is unconscionable that in the year 2021 housing discrimination remains such a widespread problem in New York,” commented New York State Assembly Member Kimberly Jean-Pierre. “We must put an end to the horrifying discriminatory practices that persist on Long Island and across New York. The legislation in this package will go a long way in educating salespeople and brokers, and help the state address the more covert and subtle forms of discrimination that have become all too common.”
Under current law, the Department of State can revoke or suspend the license of a real estate broker or salesperson or enforce a fine not exceeding one thousand dollars for certain violations. Legislation included would increase the fine from one to two thousand dollars and the revenues collected from these fines would be distributed to county-level human rights commissions and a fund created to aid in the fight against housing discrimination.
The assembly also passed legislation mandating that associate real estate brokers serving as office managers be active as a licensed broker for at least two of the four years leading up to their appointment as manager. This requirement aims to ensure that these individuals, who are accountable for the supervision of others, are equipped with the training and experience necessary to comply with fair housing regulations.
“While housing discrimination is by no means a new phenomenon, it has transformed from obvious and deliberate behavior to more subtle and insidious conduct that we must address head on,” New York State Assembly Member Michaelle Solages stated of the legislation. “My legislation helps ensure proper oversight over real estate agents irrespective of whether they are working out of a broker’s principal place of business or in a branch office under an office manager.”
Included in the legislation is a bill requiring state and local housing agencies that receive state funds to identify and overcome patterns of segregation, eradicate racially or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty, reduce disparities in access to opportunity, eliminate disproportionate housing needs, provide the public with reasonable and regular opportunities to comment, and encourage and maintain compliance with New York’s fair housing law.
“The blatantly disparate service provided to minority homebuyers that was brought to light in a recent exposé was appalling and unacceptable,” remarked New York State Assembly Member Judy Griffin. “My legislation will mandate certain standard operating procedures for assisting all prospective homebuyers fairly and help ensure that those who do not comply are held accountable.”
Another bill passed would fund statewide fair housing testing efforts by instigating a surcharge on the licensing fees for brokers and agents. Under the bill, a thirty-dollar surcharge would be added to the fee for a broker’s license and a ten-dollar surcharge would be added to the fee for a real estate sales license. Those funds will then be designated for statewide testing and the monitoring of discrimination in the real estate industry.
“The recent report on discriminatory real estate practices demonstrated an alarming deficiency in the quality of training courses for salespeople and brokers,” New York State Assembly Member Catalina Cruz said of the legislation. “This legislative package addresses the clear need for higher standards and educational training for people working in the real estate industry, which is a first step in addressing this pervasive issue.”
The legislation includes multiple bills aimed at more comprehensive training for real estate licensure. One bill would provide that no license or renewal license may be issued unless the licensee has received at least six hours of instruction pertaining to fair housing and/or discrimination in the sale or rental of real property within two years before renewal, while another would require that real estate brokers and salespeople receive implicit bias training as a part of the licensure or re-licensure process.
“Bias has long existed in this industry, but the level of implicit bias we witnessed in this Long Island exposé was extremely disturbing and needs to be addressed in a meaningful way,” noted New York State Assembly Member Gina Sillitti. “My legislation will ensure that salespeople and brokers are educated on implicit bias and the illegal and immoral impact it has on our communities.”
Additional measures included in the legislation would require the Secretary of State to create a curriculum of instruction for real estate brokers and salespeople in the area of fair housing laws and discrimination in sale of real property and that any individual desiring to pursue licensure or re-licensure as a real estate broker receive a minimum of two hours of cultural competency training.
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