ALBANY — Two Long Island Democrats on Monday proposed a new bill, sparked by a Newsday investigation, targeting real estate discrimination by allowing the state to suspend or revoke real estate agents' licenses.
A Newsday special report, covering three years and dozens of real estate agents across Long Island, found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority potential home buyers and minority communities. The findings included evidence that potential home buyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that agents required preapproval for mortgages from black customers but not white ones.
The probe has sparked promises of investigations by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and the State Legislature. Monday, the first piece of legislation was proposed in response to the report.
Sen. James Gaughran (D-Huntington) and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Babylon) introduced a bill that would expand the state’s authority to suspend or revoke a real estate agent’s license.
The state already has the power to suspend a broker’s license for fraudulent practices, misleading advertising and other causes. The new bill would add another cause: “violation of the human rights law,” a reference to the state’s anti-discrimination statute.
"I was shocked to see the Newsday report and it's a major issue we have to deal with," Gaughran said in a phone call.
"We're not saying all realtors are bad," Jean-Pierre added. "But there are people in every profession that are just not doing the right thing. This [bill] is saying you have to do the right thing."
The legislators wanted to introduce the measure ahead of a Dec. 12 State Senate hearing prompted by the Newsday series so that it could be discussed there, an aide said.
The newspaper’s three-year investigation used undercover “testers” carrying hidden cameras and microphones. The report, for example, found some real estate agents appeared to steer minority men and women posing as prospective buyers to minority neighborhoods, while white “testers” were often directed to predominantly white neighborhoods.
Gaughran said the proposed legislation would help deter "bad actors" in the real estate business.
"It just seems to me that the state should have that in its toolbox for dealing with this egregious type of conduct," the Democrat said.
The State Legislature has adjourned for 2019 but will return to Albany in January to open its 2020 session.