New York City Held Day of Action in Queens to Remind Immigrant New Yorkers of Legal Protections Against Housing Discrimination and Harassment

June 21, 2017

After seeing an increase in immigration status discrimination and retaliation in housing, the NYC Commission on Human Rights has initiated enforcement actions against landlords, including sending ‘cease and desist’ letter to Queens landlord Jaideep Reddy

NEW YORK – The de Blasio Administration today announced a Day of Action in Queens to inform immigrant New Yorkers of legal protections against discrimination in housing based on immigration status and national origin under the New York City Human Rights Law. City agencies, including the NYC Commission on Human Rights, Housing Preservation and Development, Human Resources Administration, Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Mayor’s Public Engagement Unit, and the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit, distributed flyers on housing rights and answered questions on tenant harassment in Jackson Heights and Corona to help immigrant New Yorkers learn about legal protections and services against housing discrimination.
  
“The NYC Human Rights Law makes it illegal to discriminate or harass anyone in New York City based on immigration status and national origin,” said Deputy Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau at the NYC Commission on Human Rights Hollis V. Pfitsch. “Protecting our city’s most vulnerable, especially immigrant communities affected by xenophobic rhetoric at the national level, is a priority for the Commission. We encourage anyone in New York City who believes they are the victim of discrimination to contact the Commission and report landlords who violate the law. We take all claims of discrimination very seriously, which can be lodged anonymously, and are using every resource at our disposal to protect vulnerable New Yorkers from discrimination and harassment.”

It is illegal in New York City to discriminate against or harass a tenant because of their immigration status or national origin, among other protected categories. The NYC Commission on Human Rights, the city agency charged with fighting discrimination citywide, enforces the NYC Human Rights Law, one of the strongest anti-discrimination laws in the nation, which protects everyone in New York City against housing discrimination regardless of their immigration status.

In New York City, it is illegal for landlords to:

  • Threaten to deport tenants or report them to Immigration and Customs Enforcement;
  • Require tenants to provide proof of citizenship or documentation detailing their immigration status;
  • Refuse to sell, rent, or lease housing because of a tenant’s immigration status or national origin;
  • Refuse to make repairs or provide equal services to tenants because of their immigration status or national origin;
  • Retaliate against tenants who report discriminatory behavior, and;
  • Harass or threaten tenants in any way because of their immigration status or national origin.

After receiving a tip from advocacy group Woodside on the Move last week that Queens landlord Jaideep Reddy was discriminating against his tenants because of their immigration status, the Commission immediately sent him a “cease and desist” letter notifying him that he is in violation of the NYC Human Rights Law and ordering him to cease and desist from inquiring about tenants’ immigration status. The letter also orders Mr. Reddy to provide proof that he informed all tenants that the notice he sent them has been withdrawn and that his policies comply with the NYC Human Rights Law, and orders him and his staff to attend a training on the NYC Human Rights Law.

Over the last two years, the Commission has doubled the overall number of investigations into discrimination based on immigration status and national origin, filing 331 cases in those areas in 2016/2015 compared to 155 cases in 2014/2013. The Commission is currently investigating 291 cases of discrimination based on immigration status and national origin, 89 cases specifically in housing.

The Commission has the authority to fine violators with civil penalties of up to $250,000 for willful and malicious violations of the Law and can award compensatory damages to victims, including emotional distress damages and other benefits. The Commission can also order trainings on the NYC Human Rights Law, changes to policies, and restorative justice relief such as community service and mediated apologies.

Additionally, the Commission has held more than 380 workshops and outreach events this year to educate tenants about their housing rights. The Commission also trains housing providers on their responsibilities under the Law with the goal of preventing future acts of discrimination. Lastly, the Commission regularly engages housing advocates and vulnerable communities to address housing discrimination and inform people of their rights. Learn more about housing protections against discrimination in New York City at www.nyc.gov/fairhousing.

If you or someone you know believes they are the victim of discrimination or harassment by their landlord, call 311 and ask for NYC Commission on Human Rights or call the Commission’s Infoline at 718-722-3131. Reports may also be filed anonymously. People may also report discrimination on the Commission’s website.

“The City of New York has made an unprecedented commitment to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants facing harassment and eviction,” said Department of Social Services Commissioner Steven Banks. “Today more than ever, it is critical that New Yorkers know that housing discrimination is illegal regardless of immigration status and that the City is providing the resources to protect and fight for their rights.”

“The Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit is proud to lead this day of action with our agency partners to educate tenants about their rights and put landlords who discriminate on notice. This is not about one landlord, this is about ensuring the rights of immigrants and all New Yorkers are respected. There is no place for discrimination in New York City,” said Marco Carrion Commissioner of the Mayor’s Community Affairs Unit.

 “We must not allow Washington’s hateful and derogatory speech towards immigrants win the day here in New York City. No landlord in the city should be inquiring into their tenants’ immigration status and we are appalled by these fear-mongering and devastating tactics,” said Bitta Mostofi, Assistant Commissioner of the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs. “The message of today’s Day of Action is clear: tenants have rights in New York City, and that includes the right to live without fear of harassment or discrimination, regardless of immigration status.”

"It's not only outrageous to exploit fear among immigrant communities and discriminate based on status -- it's illegal," said New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. "When a Corona landlord threatened to evict tenants who weren't citizens, we made clear he was breaking the law and ordered him to cease and desist. Bad landlords should be on notice: we won't hesitate to protect the rights of all New Yorkers, no matter their immigration status."

 “Our city takes pride in its identity and history as a home for immigrants from around the world.  With the Trump Administration targeting immigrants in their homes and schools, the last thing hard-working New Yorkers need is their landlords operating as vigilante immigration officers,” said Rep. Joe Crowley. “New York City laws protect renters from discrimination, and we must ensure those laws are enforced so no one has to worry if they would face discrimination when looking for safe housing. Discrimination cannot be tolerated and this disturbing trend must be put to a stop.”

"There's been a rising, troubling trend of unscrupulous landlords intimidating and exploiting the vulnerabilities of their tenants. The best way to prevent such abuse is to arm all tenants with knowledge of their legal rights, especially to protect themselves from illicit discrimination based on immigration status. The Mayor deserves to be commended for launching this Day of Action outreach effort to inform the public at large," said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

State Senator Jose Peralta said, “Besides violating city and state laws, this behavior is revolting. It is despicable that in this day and age a landlord will send a letter to tenants requiring them to show proof of legal immigration status in the United States. I am not going to tolerate this, and this is why I filed a complaint with the office of the Attorney General when my constituent came into my office and complained about this letter. I applaud the City’s agencies and all those involved in the efforts to provide tenants with information about their rights.”

"No one should feel compelled to divulge their immigration status for fear of being bullied out of their homes, Unfortunately, that is exactly what we've seen happen within even the world's borough of Queens. If tenant discrimination can happen in the heart of my district of Corona, it can happen anywhere in New York. Not only must we enforce NYC's Human Rights law, the state legislature must also pass the NYS Liberty Act so that a person's immigration status can never be asked or used against them. We must show zero tolerance and yield no ground to the impression that Donald Trump's prejudices are appropriate or ever welcome here. I applaud the City for taking to the streets and reassuring immigrants that they have just as much a right to a home as anyone else," said Assemblymember Francisco P. Moya.

“It is an unacceptable act against the rights of families for a landlord to threaten them based on immigration status, and we will not stand for it. This community is one of the largest immigrant communities in New York City, and we have many resources and organizations ready to fight to protect their homes, their children and their livelihoods. I thank the Mayor and Commissioner Malalis for their prompt response to ensure that bad actors are put on notice and tenants understand their rights,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland.

“Unscrupulous landlords, beware!” said NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights, Elmhurst). “We will not allow you to bully our immigrant neighbors out of their apartments. Tenants in NYC know that they have rights. The city and state offer housing protections to all regardless of ethnicity or immigration status. It is sad but not surprising that President Trump's views on immigration have been used by some as an excuse to harass tenants. This backwards thinking has no place in New York City where we have embraced the message of unity in diversity.  My commitment to fighting for the rights of our city's immigrant communities is stronger than ever.”

“Woodside on the Move responded immediately when tenants from 95-36 42nd Avenue reached out to us regarding a letter from the landlord demanding proof of immigration status. They were informed that no landlord has the right to request such information in order for them to renew their leases. Threatening letters like this one constitute a serious harassment and a clear and unacceptable violation that we cannot tolerate and we have to stop. As an organization that has been advocating for tenant's rights over the last 40 years, we will continue to work and defend our community against negligent and predatory landlords that trample their rights. We will hold them accountable for cowardly using illegal tactics as a way to displace tenants from their apartments,” said Maritza Munoz, Housing Program Director.

Julissa Bisono, Lead Organizer at Make the Road New York, said, “We stand with the Mayor today to demand an end to housing discrimination against immigrants. What’s going on is illegal and wrong. We are pleased that New York City is stepping up to confront this challenge, and we look forward to working with our partners in government to make sure that tenants know their rights and are connected to the legal services they need.”

"Everyone, regardless of immigration status, has the right to safe housing, free of harassment. It's unacceptable for landlords to prey on the vulnerabilities of tenants, and we are seeing an increasing trend of using immigration status as a weapon to intimidate and force compliance," said  Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya CDC.

“No New Yorker should suffer any kind of discrimination that bars access to housing," said Sateesh Nori, Attorney-In-Charge of the Queens Civil Practice. "Unscrupulous landlords have no place in Queens or this city. The Legal Aid Society stands united with this Administration to fight against discriminatory landlord harassment that threatens the basic right of having fair access to quality housing.” 
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