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New York launches undercover program to expose discrimination in real estate

Will use 'testers' to verify compliance with fair housing laws

The state of New York is set to launch a new program that will use undercover “testers” posing as prospective homebuyers or renters to “root out” housing discrimination in the state, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced over the weekend.

According to Cuomo, New York will establish the “Fair Housing Enforcement Program,” which will be tasked with uncovering discrimination in real estate.

In a release, Cuomo’s office said that the Fair Housing Enforcement Program will partner with three fair housing agencies, Housing Opportunities Made Equal in Buffalo, CNY Fair Housing in Syracuse, and Westchester Residential Opportunities in Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties, to complete the enforcement program.

According to Cuomo, New York’s Division of Homes and Community Renewal will work to “safeguard the rights” of all New Yorkers by using trained fair housing “testers” with “diverse racial, gender, and economic backgrounds, who also represent parents, and persons with disabilities.”

The testers will act as potential renters or home seekers and will test for discriminatory bias by sellers and/or landlords. Testers will work in teams and will present similar incomes and career profiles to real estate agents and owners in an effort to obtain housing, Cuomo’s office said.

According to Cuomo’s office, the testers will document the treatment they receive and the results will be analyzed. When possible discrimination is uncovered it will be investigated and prosecuted, Cuomo’s office said.

The fair housing enforcement will also include investigations of real estate agents, owners and landlords who are all prohibited from discriminating in the rental or sale of housing in New York State.

“The simple, painful truth is that for all our progress in creating a better society, discrimination is still alive and well in America today. We will not stand for it in New York,” Cuomo said.

“These actions will hold housing providers accountable – we will not hesitate to crack down on those who break the law,” Cuomo continued. “We will do everything we can to root out discrimination where it shows its ugly presence in order to create stronger and more inclusive communities statewide.”

Cuomo also announced a series of proposed regulations from the New York State Division of Human Rights that will clarify that it is an unlawful practice under the state’s Human Rights Law to discriminate against individuals because of their relationship or association with members of a protected class.

“These regulations will ensure that all New Yorkers know that they have the right to rent or buy residential or commercial space, or patronize such places as stores, restaurants or theaters, regardless of the race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, disability or other protected characteristic of their family members, associates, or clients,” Cuomo’s office said.

Additionally, Cuomo said that New York’s Department of State will announce regulations to specify that discriminatory conduct is prohibited by law and will move to revoke the license of any real estate broker or salesperson that has been found to have engaged in discriminatory conduct by any city, state or federal agency or court of competent jurisdiction.

“Access to housing is a basic human right and we want all New Yorkers to know that if they have been victimized, the division will use every means at its disposal to ensure they are afforded their rights and that housing providers understand their obligations under the State’s Human Rights Law,” New York’s Division of Human Rights Commissioner Helen Diane Foster said

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