Housing Discrimination

Discrimination in today’s day and age will always continue to surprise me.  But as a real estate professional and father of a 6 year old son and 4 year old daughter, it is almost unbelievable that agents are out there telling prospective renters that a landlord isn’t interested in renting to people with kids.   Andy Newman of The New York Times reveals that a Couple’s Suit Accuses Real Estate Firm of Bias Against Children.  First let’s be mindful that a lawsuit in itself means nothing and that all parties remain innocent until proven guilty but should this instance prove to be true then I feel very strongly that the landlord and any agent involved should be punished.

The apartment sounded beautiful: a converted carriage house on a quiet lane in Brooklyn Heights, with a deck. Jamie Katz and Lisa Nocera were excited.

There was only one catch: Dr. Nocera, an emergency-medicine physician, was expecting. The broker…would not show them the apartment because the owners did not want to rent to a family with children, the couple said.

A year later, in 2007, now with baby in tow, the couple were shown an apartment in a brownstone in Park Slope, perhaps the city’s most child-centric neighborhood. They loved it. They passed a credit check.

Then the broker called with bad news. There was a problem with lead paint; the owner would not rent to families with children, they said.

Mr. Katz and Dr. Nocera thought something was amiss.

A few weeks later in Brooklyn Heights, same story: Sorry, lead paint, no kids. “I immediately knew something was definitely wrong,” Dr. Nocera said.

When the agent named in the lawsuit was asked about this she responded by saying:

"I would have said it was not kid-friendly based on there being lead paint issues.  Wouldn’t that be a good enough reason?” In fact, the federal Fair Housing Act outlaws doing anything to discourage someone from renting an apartment based on family status, whether by steering the potential renter away or by outright refusal to rent. So do state and city human-rights laws.

And although I have come across these types of misinformed and misguided agents in the past it had been quite some time…until last week. 

I’m representing the seller of a condo in the West Village who currently has a tenant in place.  In an effort to facilitate the sale as well as a smooth transition for the tenant, I and my team have been trying to locate a suitable rental.  The past week has reminded me why I left the rental business almost 14 years ago…it’s the MOST inefficient marketplace in the world IMHO!  That’s an entirely other topic.  Back to discrimination.  Last week, we reached out to an agent representing a landlord in the West Village to inquire about the property.  She provided few additional details other than what was in her vague online description.  The kicker was when she heard that the couple had two children she said, "the landlord lives downstairs and isn’t going to want children running above her head" and hung up the phone. 

Many years ago when I was immersed in the Manhattan rental market, it was not so rare to have a landlord boldly state that they wanted no couples with children, "kids" in their 20’s, or even attorneys.  God forbid you rent to an attorney.  That by the way always made me ponder the question of why an honest landlord would be afraid of an attorney?  Again, another topic for another day.

Obviously, there are still real estate agents out there who don’t understand the Fair Housing Act and perhaps there are even a few (I really don’t think too many in today’s marketplace) who just don’t care.  Educating these agents is imperative and I know that many if not all of the large firms in the city have had mandatory seminars as recent as this past winter to discuss just this topic.  Perhaps some of the attendees were busy on their Blackberrys when they discussed steering and discrimination? 

Time for another mandatory seminar perhaps?

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