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State: New fair housing rules will combat discrimination

The new rules, which take effect in June,

The new rules, which take effect in June, require agents to make buyers and sellers aware of anti-bias laws. Credit: Newsday/John Keating

Under newly adopted state rules, real estate agents and brokers must notify prospective buyers, sellers, renters and landlords about anti-discrimination laws and prominently display information about how customers can file complaints.

The New York State Board of Real Estate, which writes rules and regulations for the industry, announced the new regulations at its meeting Monday. The rules, which go into effect June 20, also require groups that provide state-mandated fair-housing training to make audio and video recordings of their classes.

The regulations "will help combat discriminatory actions and ensure New Yorkers understand their rights," a spokeswoman for the New York Department of State, which oversees licensing of real estate agents and brokers, said in a statement. 

They come in the wake of Newsday’s Long Island Divided project, which revealed evidence of widespread racial bias by real estate agents and brokers on Long Island. Newsday’s findings were “truly startling and tremendously disappointing, and the impetus for obviously much-needed changes,” said Neil Garfinkel, who serves on the state board and is broker counsel for the Real Estate Board of New York.

The state can impose fines or suspend or revoke licenses of agents or brokers who violate the regulations, he said.

Providing the anti-bias disclosure is “a great opportunity to…talk about the importance of fair housing, the importance of how brokers conduct their business, the role that the consumer plays in that,” Garfinkel said in an interview Tuesday. “I think it's important from the beginning of the relationship, and then it's a great way to – should a conversation, you know, slip over the line or whatever the case may be – to then say, ‘Hey, remember, we talked about this? This is why I can't do that.’”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed the new rules in December. They were adopted this month after a 60-day comment period, and they will be published in the May 6 state register.

Real estate brokers must make sure all the agents they supervise give written fair-housing disclosures to all prospective customers. If they give a printed form, the agents must either have customers sign a copy of the form acknowledging they received it, or if customers refuse to sign, agents must fill out a form stating when they provided the disclosure. Or, they can provide the notice by email, text or fax. The agents must retain proof for three years that they provided the disclosure.

Brokers and agents also must post fair-housing notices at each office, at open houses and on their websites. The notices describe anti-bias laws and tell customers how to file complaints with the state.

The disclosure reminds agents and brokers “to avoid anything that can even be construed as discriminatory because buyers and tenants are now empowered, informed and finally, protected,” said Andrew Lieb, a Smithtown-based attorney and fair-housing trainer.

Since sellers, landlords, agents and brokers can be sued under anti-bias laws, the disclosure should motivate sellers and landlords to seek out brokers who can help them avoid such lawsuits, he said.

“If the brokers are trained properly…this is the best tool since sliced bread,” Lieb said of the disclosure mandate. “Don’t you want a broker that knows how to protect you?”

The new rules also require groups that provide state-mandated continuing education to make video and audio recordings of all their classes on fair housing and keep the recordings for a year. Under state law, agents must take 22.5 hours of continuing education every two years, including three hours on fair housing, to renew their licenses.

Newsday’s investigation revealed that in some classes offered by the Long Island Board of Realtors, instructors were spending considerably less than three hours — in one case, 20 minutes — discussing fair housing, and making comments that experts said could reinforce discriminatory attitudes.

LIBOR and the New York State Association of Realtors suspended their fair-housing classes, overhauled their programs and brought in new trainers after the investigation was published.

The new requirements

Starting June 20, real estate agents and brokers must:

- Give prospective customers disclosures that describe anti-bias laws and tell how to file complaints with the state;

- Retain proof for three years that they provided the disclosures;

- Prominently display notices about fair-housing laws in all offices, at open houses and on websites.

In addition, groups that provide state-mandated training for real estate agents must make video and audio recordings of fair-housing classes and keep copies for one year.

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