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Long Island

Cuomo signs bill, sparked by Newsday investigation, to fight real estate discrimination

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a news briefing

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo at a news briefing at the State Capitol in Albany on July 24. Credit: Office of the Governor / Mike Groll

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law Monday, sparked by a Newsday investigation, targeting real estate discrimination by allowing the state to suspend or revoke agents’ licenses.

The state already has authority to suspend a broker’s license for fraudulent practices and other causes. The new law adds another cause: “Violation of the human rights law,” a reference to the state’s anti-discrimination statute.

The real-estate legislation comes following a Newsday special report, “Long Island Divided,” which found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority communities and minority homebuyers. Covering three years, the findings included evidence that potential homebuyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that agents in some cases required preapproval for mortgages from black customers but not white ones.

The governor cited the Newsday report — and its “deeply troubling findings” — in his decision to sign the law.

"We have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind in New York and the sheer scope and breadth of the unscrupulous and discriminatory real estate practices uncovered on Long Island is repugnant to who we are," Cuomo said.

The legislation was sponsored by two Long Island Democrats, Sen. James Gaughran (D-Northport) and Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights).

"This law will provide teeth to the enforcement of New York's Human Rights Law and ensure that real estate agents cannot engage in racist practices like 'steering' that deny families the dignity of choosing their home and neighborhood,” Gaughran said.

Jean-Pierre said: “This legislation will help ensure that we are protecting every New Yorker's freedom to choose where they want to call home and build a future for themselves, regardless of the color of their skin.”

In its three-year investigation, Newsday sent testers carrying hidden cameras and microphones to meet with real estate agents and record the meetings. The Newsday report led to investigations by Cuomo, Attorney General Letitia James and the State Legislature. Earlier this year, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, the State Senate had issued 31 subpoenas to compel testimony from some of the biggest real estate companies in New York.

In other bill signings Monday:

  • The governor signed into law a bill to extend the deadline for filing lawsuits for decades-old sexual abuse claims until Aug. 14, 2021, a one-year extension triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. Originally approved in 2019, the law suspended the statute of limitations for filing sexual abuse claims and created a one-year special “look back” window, ending Aug. 14, 2020, to file lawsuits. When the pandemic hit and courts largely shut down around the state, alleged victims and attorneys began lobbying to extend the deadline. Cuomo, using emergency powers, first extended it five months. Then, the State Senate and Assembly approved a bill to make it a full year. Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) said filing such lawsuits is complicated and many people feared the “clock would run out” on their ability to sue because of the pandemic. Since August 2019, 3,118 lawsuits have been filed under the Child Victims Act, according to the state Office of Court Administration. That includes 181 in Nassau County and 69 in Suffolk.
  • Cuomo also signed a new law to allow the manufacture and sale of ice cream and other frozen desserts made with liquor. The measure limits to 5% the proportion of alcohol in ice cream and would mandate product labeling and warning statements similar to confectionary that contain wine, beer or cider, the governor said.

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