GUEST VIEWPOINT: Victory for Fair Housing, What’s Next?

GUEST VIEWPOINT: Victory for Fair Housing, What’s Next?
Donald Arace

It’s easy to see why the real estate community of Westchester County would celebrate a long, hard-fought battle for the passage of an amendment to the county’s co-op disclosure law (2018-11). The Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors and the New York State Association of Realtors have been lobbying Albany lawmakers for statewide approval for 20 years or more, while HGAR and its predecessor organizations have pursued co-op transparency in Westchester for more than three decades.

The county amendment is a great first step to state adoption. The main focus of the amendment adds a few important features: reason for denial; reporting to the County Human Rights Commission within 15 days and mandatory two-hour Fair Housing training every two years for co-op board members.

The not knowing why an applicant has been denied has been a vexing question for buyers, sellers, and real estate agents since the beginning of the formation of the large majority of co-ops in the late 70s and early 80s. Through the addition of mandating the reason for denial the amendment removes mysterious denials to failed applicants.

In a landscape of RESPA-driven real estate and mortgage banking industries where fair housing disclosures are a normal course of business, co-ops have to this point escaped scrutiny, citing private corporate status as the key difference from oversight by the federal, state and governmental agencies disclosure laws.

The county amendment to the 2018 law is sure to have an effect on Westchester co-ops’ review on how they conduct interviews and the approval/denial process. Westchester County is a larger test case study than Suffolk County, which passed similar legislation in 2009. This may prompt momentum for New York State legislation which is currently sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Brian Kavanagh (S.2874).

Critics such as Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, and related trade associations will continue to oppose the law’s expansion. If their grievances are taken at face value, without thought of discrimination, the main objections are that there is legal peril for co-ops and their board of directors through frivolous lawsuits born from the reason for denial letter. In recent articles it has been pointed out there have been no such lawsuits filed in Suffolk County since it enacted the legislation.

Although there are some of the unknowns, and until sufficient time passes to evaluate the likely and unlikely repercussions, it is fair to say that having the law is better than not having these new mandates implemented.

The law of unintended consequences may be at play, but in the meantime let’s celebrate the light that will be provided for those that would be discriminated against without the law. A victory for people that have been denied their dream of homeownership due to discrimination, and for those who will not improperly be precluded from owning a home in the future.

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