BARRISTER'S BRIEFING: New Bills Give More ‘Teeth’ to Disability Animals and Fair Housing

On Aug. 11, 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed Executive Law (Human Rights Law) §296(2-a) (d)(2) requiring landlords to provide tenants “the use of an animal as a reasonable accommodation to alleviate symptoms or effects of a disability.” It was effective immediately. This protection adds to those already required under federal law. Under this state law, if a tenant were to request a reasonable accommodation to a “no pets” policy, unless the disability is readily apparent, the landlord would be permitted to request a letter from a medical professional or “other professional” stating that the animal assists the person with the disability by alleviating symptoms or effects of the disability.

So, the immediate question is, “What has changed because of the new state law?” First, under the new state law, there is no definition of what is meant by the term “animal.” Under federal law, a service animal, by definition, can only be a dog; however other “assistance” animals other than dogs, certain common household animals, and even some barnyard animals are permissible. Therefore, the state’s broader interpretation, which could benefit the tenant, may permit certain animals that may not otherwise be allowed under federal law.

Second, the issue of who qualifies as an “other professional” is in question, as it too is undefined. Again, without further interpretation from New York State, this may be broadly interpreted; giving tenants broader ability to gain animal approval for a disability by someone other than a medical professional or someone intimate with the tenant’s condition.

While it is currently uncertain how these new laws will be applied, it is important to know that these new laws exist. We will continue to monitor the roll-out of these new laws and their applications over time. During this period, it is important to understand that while Realtors should make this new law known to their clients, they should not be advising landlords on these legal matters and what they should do. Landlords should always consult with their own attorney on these legal matters.

New State Fair Housing Disclosure Law

As we all recall, in November 2019, Newsday reported the results of an undercover investigation into housing discrimination on Long Island. That report found that real estate agents were knowingly and unknowingly engaged in discriminatory conduct. Since then, fair housing has remained not only on the minds of HGAR and its members, but it has also remained on the minds of our state representatives. Gov. Cuomo recently signed legislation explicitly granting the Department of State the authority to discipline real estate professionals found to have violated provisions of the state Human Rights Law by revoking or suspending their license. The bill further reinforces the state’s commitment to combating housing discrimination and strengthens the abilities of the Secretary of State to discipline licensed professionals for discriminatory behavior. The new law also compliments the department’s existing regulations, which authorize the Secretary to discipline licensed agents and brokers that have engaged in any unlawful discriminatory practice.

Recent Legal Updates

State of Emergency Extended: Gov. Cuomo extended the current state of emergency for the State of New York until October 4, 2020. As a result, all Executive Orders relating to this emergency will remain in effect, including the continued No Cold Calling mandate.

Eviction Moratorium Extended: A New York State Chief Administrative Judge issued a new directive that mandates that no existing or new residential eviction warrants can be executed until October 1st, at the earliest.

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