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Fair Housing Laws in New York

Fair housing laws in the state of New York are stronger than their federal counterparts. They protect tenants from discrimination based on age, sexual orientation, and more.

All U.S. states, including New York, are governed by the federal Fair Housing Act. Although states cannot take away any protections granted by federal law, they are allowed to add more. The New York State Human Rights Law offers broader protections than federal law, shielding people from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, age, and more.

New York law protects more renters from discrimination

The New York State Human Rights Law protects all of the classes mentioned in the federal Fair Housing Act, but also makes it illegal to discriminate based on:1

  • Age
  • Creed
  • Gender identity or expression
  • Lawful source of income
  • Marital status
  • Military status
  • Sexual orientation

Lawful source of income

This is a relatively new addition to New York fair housing laws. Source of income became a state-wide protected class in April 2019 and includes things like public or housing assistance (such as Section 8), social security, pension, child support, alimony, foster care subsidies, annuities, or unemployment benefits.

Marital status

Technically, New York State law only protects married couples from discrimination. In a 1983 case, the courts ruled that an unmarried couple may be refused a rental on the basis of their relationship status.2 However, New York’s Roommate Law3 could potentially be used as a workaround for a “married couples only” policy. If one unmarried tenant signs a lease, it would be illegal for the landlord to prevent them from inviting a roommate—in this case, their romantic partner—into the unit.

In addition, the New York State Attorney General’s office clearly states that all landlords are barred from asking questions about a prospective tenant's marital status in the first place.4

Fewer rental properties are exempt in New York

In New York State, fair housing laws cover most housing, with four exceptions: 5

  • One- or two-family buildings that are also occupied by the owner
  • Room rentals in same-sex housing, such as college dormitories (only exempt from protections concerning sex discrimination)
  • Room rentals in owner-occupied housing
  • Senior citizen housing

This tightens the federal exemptions somewhat. Owner-occupied buildings with up to four rental units are exempt on a national level; in New York it's only owner-occupied buildings with up to two units. Also, member-only clubs are not exempt from fair housing laws in New York like they are some other states.

There are harsher punishments for discrimination against families

To deal with widespread housing discrimination against families with children, New York passed a specific law that makes it a criminal misdemeanor for landlords to refuse to rent to applicants that have children (regardless of the child’s age). A landlord could be fined $50-100 per offense. The family may also bring a lawsuit for damages and for an injunction against the landlord.6

In the same way that state governments can strengthen federal fair housing laws, city governments can strengthen state ones. The New York City Human Rights Law, for instance, also prohibits housing discrimination based on citizenship status, partnership status, and lawful occupation.7 Other municipalities may have their own local laws, as well.

[1] NY Exec L § 296. 2-a

[2] Hudson View Properties v Weiss (1983)

[3] NY Real Prop L § 235-f

[4] Office of the Attorney General, State of New York, Formal Opinion No. 85-F15

[5] NY Exec L § 296. 5

[6] NY Real Prop L § 237-a

[7] New York City Administrative Code § 8-107

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.