Fair housing law mulled by County Legislature

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NEW CITY – The Rockland County Legislature is seeking input on a potential fair housing resolution for cooperative housing applicants.

A draft has yet to be proposed, but would likely introduce new requirements for cooperative board decisions on potential shareholders. Such a law would likely require coops answer applicants’ housing requests within a reasonable span of time, complete with an explanation should their application be rejected.

State law does not currently require boards to disclose a reason for their rejection or answer in a timely fashion, leaving room for abuse by boards that wish to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, age, or other bases. This can also disadvantage homeowners and sellers who hope to close on properties.

According to Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director Philip Weiden, such laws have been on the books in Suffolk County since 2009 and the Village of Hempstead since 2012. Weiden explained the fact that these laws are still on the books is a testament to their legal resiliency.

“These laws could have been struck down and reversed so far,” Weiden said. “So far we haven’t seen any [challenges]. There haven’t been any major cases in Suffolk county or the Village of Hempstead striking this down.”

Weiden added  the laws do not necessarily rub up against state law, as they can be structured to fade out if stronger state regulations pass. Likewise, they work with existing anti-discrimination statutes rather than introducing new ones.

“We’re not trying to add any protected classes on top of those already available,” Weiden added.

In possible instances of discrimination, explanations can be verified or contradicted by an applicant’s financial or personal background information. The Hudson Gateway Association recommends a 45 day timeframe for the notice of applicants.

Hard data on housing discrimination in Rockland, however, is relatively scant. According to Legislator Joseph Meyers, who works as a real estate attorney, possible discrimination cases are rare in his practice.

“I haven’t really noticed in my practice a high incidence of rejections and I also haven’t really noticed in my practice a high incidence of no answers,” Meyers said.

Meyers also warned such a law could primarily benefit realtors, introducing leverage they can use to intimidate uncooperative boards. Weiden argued, however, that a well-designed law would benefit all sides by removing unnecessary encumbrances to coop sales, enhancing the market, and smoothing the process out for all parties.

Legislator Alden Wolfe agreed there is evidence of discriminatory decisions, arguing he, in his own legal practice, had seen the effects firsthand.

“I had two purchasers rejected by the board before we found one that was acceptable,” Wolfe said. “It does happen in Rockland County.”

The Rockland Bar Association is also expected to examine model proposals and report back to the Legislature on the issue.

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