Some people confuse fair housing rights with tenant rights. If you experience difficulties with your application, lease, lease renewal, services, or rent that you believe are the result of a discriminatory act (occurring because of your membership in a particular protected class [e.g., race, creed, national origin]), please refer to Rights and Responsibilities and contact the NYC Commission on Human Rights at 311.

However, when problems or misunderstandings between a tenant and their building owner, building superintendent, or management company are not the result of a discriminatory act (occurring because of your membership in a particular protected class [e.g., race, creed, national origin]), many other tenant rights resources are available to you. In general, tenant rights deal with landlord obligations, such as the Warranty of Habitability, rent payments, and lease renewals.

Fair Housing versus Tenant Rights

Some examples where tenant issues may become Fair Housing issues:

  • A landlord requires a greater security deposit from an applicant with children or a disability than from an applicant who is childless or not disabled.
  • Tenants allege that they are refused repairs because of their national origin, while tenants with a different ancestry receive repairs.
  • A landlord refuses to permit a resident with a disability to have a service or emotional support animal because it would violate the “no-pet” clause in the lease; the landlord is obligated to provide a reasonable accommodation (providing it doesn’t cause an undue hardship), which would result in waiving this provision in the lease.

Some examples where tenant issues do not involve a fair housing violation:

  • The landlord does not provide heat in an ethnically diverse building; everyone is treated the same because heat is a building-wide service.
  • The superintendent requires “key” money from all applicants. This practice is not discriminatory, although it does violate other state laws.
  • The landlord refuses to paint a disabled tenant’s apartment, as well as the apartments of her non-disabled neighbors; her disability is not a factor in his refusal.

Tenant Selection

When the landlord, broker, or owner screens you during your application process, you should carefully distinguish between legitimate questions about you and discriminatory ones that violate fair housing law.

Housing providers have a right to set financial and credit qualifications, a process that provides some assurance that the applicant will be a good tenant. Qualifications and inquiries must be applied equally to all applicants and must not be influenced by race, national origin or other protected factors.

Screening may include credit checks, work, and landlord references, personal references, number of people who will live in the unit, criminal background checks including the sex offender registry, home visits, and interviews. Whatever qualifying screening criteria a landlord uses, he or she should apply them equally to all applicants.

The Human Rights Law generally prohibits housing providers from asking direct or indirect questions that may reveal a person’s protected class. However, inquiries designed to qualify you for housing for senior citizens or people with disabilities are permissible.

Examples of inquiries that may be evidence of discrimination include:

  • Do you have a disability?
  • What is your religion?
  • How old are you?
  • Where were you born?
  • Are you gay?
  • Are you married?
  • What is your race?

Additional examples of inquiries that may be evidence of discrimination include:

  • Requiring you to submit medical documentation (unless you request an accommodation for a disability);
  • Requiring a marriage certificate;
  • Requiring a passport, birth certificate, or any document that reveals your age, race, national origin, or alienage/citizenship status; and,
  • Requiring your picture with your application. You can be asked to provide I.D. but this requirement must be applied consistently to all applicants and should not be restricted to a particular form of identification(e.g., a driver license).

These types of questions could be evidence of a fair housing violation and when in doubt, you should call the NYC Human Rights Commission and discuss your situation.

For resolving tenant complaints that do not involve a Fair Housing violation, visit HPD's Tenant Rights page.