Hochul signs package of laws aimed at fighting housing discrimination

More training, heavier fines in store for brokers in response to probe into unequal treatment on Long Island

Hochul signs package of laws aimed at fighting housing discrimination
Kathy Hochul (Getty, iStock)

Two years ago, a Newsday investigation into Long Island’s housing market shed light on widespread racial discrimination against prospective homebuyers.

The exposé prompted the New York State Senate to pass a measure last year enabling regulators to suspend or revoke the licenses of real estate agents found to have violated fair housing laws. State lawmakers also launched their own probe into the matter, churning out a list of recommendations to end what their report called a “vicious cycle” of housing bias.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kathy Hochul took that mandate several steps further, signing off on a package of bills intended to tamp down on discrimination against disabled homebuyers and people of color.

The nine measures signed into law are aimed primarily at brokers. One bill establishes a fund the attorney general can tap to allocate grants for fair housing testing and doubles the maximum penalty for brokers found to have violated fair housing laws from $1,000 to $2,000.

Half of those proceeds will funnel into the new testing fund, which will also be bolstered by a new $30 licensing and relicensing surcharge for brokers.

Heavier schooling is also in store for real estate professionals, including two hours of implicit bias and cultural competency training for brokers looking to renew their licenses. Another bill mandates courses on the history of housing segregation and fair housing laws. Agents are already required to complete three hours of instruction on fair housing and discrimination.

Another law will hold managers more responsible for associate brokers. Real estate professionals will be mandated to supervise salespeople and associates and must have worked as active brokers for two out of the last four years to take on a managerial role.

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Several of the measures were among those awaiting former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature when he resigned in August.

Assembly member Michaelle Solages said the legislation would ensure proper oversight of agents, regardless of whether they are working out of a brokerage’s principal office or a branch, and meet a “need for more transparency and accountability in the industry as a whole.”

The legislative package holds the government more accountable, too, mandating that state agencies that receive state funding for housing programs to issue reports every five years on the steps they’ve taken to “affirmatively further fair housing.”

A new hotline will also be created to field housing discrimination complaints.

By and large, New York City brokerages condemned the racial discrimination uncovered by Newsday’s report. But a representative for Douglas Elliman, whose agents were tested in the investigation, slammed it as “an unreliable, unethical, and unscientific attempt to create a news story where there is none.”

Compass told The Real Deal that the report highlighted the necessity for agents to be trained on the law. The brokerage was named in a suit filed by the Housing Rights Initiative this year alleging discrimination against tenants holding Section 8 housing vouchers.

The industry was supportive of the new discrimination protections signed Tuesday. The New York Association of Realtors said in a tweet Wednesday that it was “proud to have worked with state lawmakers over the last two years to strengthen fair housing laws.” The Real Estate Board of New York said it would continue to work with lawmakers to advance fair housing goals.

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