Renting an Apartment? Know Your Rights!

If you are considering setting up a rental accessory apartment or renting your entire home, you should educate yourself on the Federal, New York State, and local fair housing laws. If you are a tenant, it is equally important to know your rights.

The fair housing laws also apply to selling a home and applying for mortgages. However, people forget that tenants also have the same rights as home buyers when it comes to fair housing. The important rule to remember is to treat everyone equally. Below are some examples of potential fair housing violations.

Refusing to rent to tenants who have children is illegal. This law might surprise many people. You cannot discriminate against anyone based on their familial status. A landlord may not want to rent an accessory apartment with crying babies because of the noise. He cannot use that a reason to reject a potential tenant. To avoid any problems, it is best for landlords never to ask the ages of potential tenants. They are allowed to restrict the number of tenants who sleep overnight in an apartment. For example, the landlord can require that no more than two people can live in the same apartment. There are some exceptions, such as senior housing like
the 55 and older communities and nursing homes.

Refusing to rent to a prospective tenant based on their source of
income is also illegal. For example, it is illegal to reject a tenant using Section 8 vouchers or any government program that helps pay their rent. If a prospective tenant asks if you accept Section 8 vouchers, the answer must always be β€œYes.”

Further, it may be illegal to ask potential tenants their occupations. Section 8
is named after Section 8 of the United States Housing Act of 1937. Many landlords like the program because the housing authority pays the rent and should pay it on time. The landlord does not have to worry that the rent will be late.

The Federal Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against buyers and renters based on race, color, national origin, religion, disability (physical or mental), sex, or familial status. The New York State Human Rights Law also makes it illegal to discriminate against age, creed, sexual orientation,
marital status, or military service.

Landlords cannot discriminate against people who are divorced or in same sex marriages. They should avoid giving their opinion of what defines a single family. If two men want to rent a home together, the landlord cannot reject them based on that fact alone.

It is also illegal to steer people in neighborhoods by grouping them together in one category. For example, if a purple space alien wanted to rent your apartment, it is illegal to tell the alien that he should consider renting or buying a home in the purple section of town. Unfortunately, this happens very often. We know this when we see NYC neighborhoods like Chinatown and Little Italy. Today, it would be wrong to create such groupings.

Some exceptions to the fair housing laws may occur with room rentals in housing of the same sex (like in college dorms), room rentals in an owner-occupied home, and a one or two family owner-occupied building. Know your rights!

Hector Gavilla is a New York State Real Estate Broker and Licensed Real Estate Instructor, with nearly 20 years in the field. A Suffolk County resident, Hector is currently office manager at a local real estate brokerage. For any real estate questions or column ideas, please email