Fair Housing, Know Your Rights

Filing Fair Housing Complaints
Fair Housing Complaints may be filed administratively through HUD’s Fair Housing Equal Opportunity Office (FHEO), the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR), or judicially through Federal or State District Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Office of Civil Rights, Dept. of Justice.

The NYS Attorney General’s Office also has the authority to pursue enforcement actions. The different claims, procedures to file, standards of proof and possible venues, outcomes/possible compensation for the victim need to be specified, as they vary.
Complaints to Police

It should be noted that racial, ethnic and religious bias complaints are reportable to the local Police or Bias Crimes Unit. However, possible outcomes and scope of investigation are very different than that of formal fair housing administrative or judicial complaint procedures that may result in substantial monetary compensation for the victims of discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was amended in 1988 and is now the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, commonly called the Fair Housing Act. This federal law says that discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and handicap is illegal in the sale or rental of most dwellings. Mortgage financing and homeowner’s/renter’s insurance are also covered under the law

The Federal Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, includes Sections 800 – 820 and sets forth pertinent provisions related to prohibited discrimination (42 U.S.C. 3601 et seq.), administration and enforcement of the law. Section 818 (42 USC 3617) is the pertinent part of the law, enforceable through civil action, that addresses illegal discrimination beyond transactions conventionally attributable to a housing provider, but for example, may also involve claims against a neighbor:

“It shall be unlawful to coerce, intimidate, threaten, or interfere with any person in the exercise or enjoyment of, or on account of his having aided or encouraged any other person in the exercise or enjoyment of any right granted or protected by Section 803, 804, 805, or 806 of this title.”

This Section 818 (and similar provisions in the NYS Human Rights Law (NYS Executive Law, Article 15, Section 296) also prohibits retaliating against someone who protests discrimination on behalf of self or others.

Civil Rights Act of 1866
Another Federal Law that prohibits racial discrimination is The Civil Rights Act of 1866. Sections 1981 and 1982 apply only to race discrimination, including harassment, intimidation and interference. Some courts have held that religion and national origin may also be prohibited factors for discrimination under this law, if these factors can be shown to have a relationship to race.

The Civil Rights Act of 1866 protects only “citizens.” (Whereas, the Federal Fair Housing Act protects “persons” – victims don’t have to be a citizen to have standing to file.) This 1866 Act is very useful to address racial claims in all real estate and personal property contexts, including the owner-occupied/four-unit or less housing that may be otherwise exempt. Complaints must be filed directly in Court.

Fair Housing and New York State Law
The Federal Fair Housing Act and the New York State Human Rights Law (aka NYS Executive Law, Article 15, Section 296 et seq.) include prohibitions about denial of equal opportunity and treatment, aiding/abetting discrimination, harassment and interference for rentals, sales, financing and insurance related to the following protected classes listed below. The italic type in the list below indicates additional covered classes in the NYS law’s jurisdiction.

  • race
  • color
  • national origin
  • religion/creed
  • familial status (families with children under 18 years of age)
  • handicap/disability (mental and physical)
  • marital status
  • age (over 18)
  • military status
  • sexual orientation
  • Amended Suffolk County HR law (SOI, DV victim, military…)
In addition to bases covered under Federal law, New York State Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in housing because of:
  • Marital Status
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Age (18 and older)
  • Military Status
With the exclusion of Military Status, which is not a protected class in Nassau, local Human Rights Laws in Suffolk and Nassau Counties prohibit discrimination in housing for all of the above-mentioned bases and prohibits Source of Income discrimination. Suffolk County also prohibits discrimination based on Gender Identity, Veteran Status, and Domestic Violence victim status.
Local County Law Additions & Exclusions
In addition to the protective laws described above, Nassau and Suffolk Counties have local Human Rights laws that address discrimination and do address all the above-listed bases for discrimination as the NY state and federal Fair Housing laws.

Nassau County and Suffolk County local laws prohibit discrimination based on source of income (for example:  public assistance, Section 8, SSD, SSI, court ordered child support).   Suffolk County also prohibits discrimination based on alienage or citizenship status, veteran status and status as a victim of domestic violence.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against, please contact the following agencies to file a complaint:

Nassau County Housing Counseling Center
Celia Camacho, Deputy Director
40 Main Street, 1st Floor
Hempstead, NY  11550
(516) 572-0824

Nassau County Bar Association
Gale Berg, Esq.
Director of Pro Bono Affairs

Long Island Housing Services
Michelle Santantonio, Executive Director
640 Johnson Avenue, Suite 8
Bohemia, New York, 11716
631-567-5111 x316/ 516-292-0400 x316
Fax: 631-567-0160   

Nassau County Human Rights Commission
Margarlie Rodriguez
240 Old Country Road, 6th Floor
Mineola, NY 11501
(516) 571-3634