City, State, and Federal Laws Protecting Tenants’ From Discrimination
The City Human Rights Law protects residents of most types of housing in New York City against discrimination. If you reside in an apartment building or multiple family dwelling, co-op, condominium, government-assisted housing, or residential hotel, you are covered under the Law. The Law does not extend to residents of two-family houses if the owner or a member of the owner’s family resides in one of the housing accommodations and the available housing accommodation was not advertised. In addition, you are not covered by the Law if you rent a room or rooms in non-government assisted housing where the owner resides.
It is unlawful for landlords, superintendents, building managers, condominium owners, cooperative owners and boards to discriminate in the sale, rental or lease of a housing accommodation or in the provision of services and facilities because of a person’s actual or perceived race, color, national origin, gender (including gender identity), disability, sexual orientation, creed, marital status, partnership status, alienage or citizenship status, any lawful source of income, age, lawful occupation, or because children are or may be residing with the person.
Under the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, it is also unlawful for building owner to refuse to rent to a tenant because of prior action against the tenant in Housing Court.
Complaints about discrimination of any kind or landlord’s failure to provide reasonable accomodation to tenants with disabilities (see below) can be made to the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The NYCCHR can also be reached by phone by calling 311 or (212) 416-0197
Laws Enforced by HUD:
Fair Housing Act Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and diability.
Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act, as amended in 1988, prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. Its coverage includes private housing, housing that receives Federal financial assistance, and State and local government housing. It is unlawful to discriminate in any aspect of selling or renting housing or to deny a dwelling to a buyer or renter because of the disability of that individual, an individual associated with the buyer or renter, or an individual who intends to live in the residence. Other covered activities include, for example, financing, zoning practices, new construction design, and advertising.
Rights of Tenants with Disabilities: Reasonable Accomodation, ADA
The Fair Housing Act requires owners of housing facilities to make reasonable exceptions in their policies and operations to afford people with disabilities equal housing opportunities. For example, a landlord with a “no pets” policy may be required to grant an exception to this rule and allow an individual who is blind to keep a guide dog in the residence. The Fair Housing Act also requires landlords to allow tenants with disabilities to make reasonable access-related modifications to their private living space, as well as to common use spaces. (The landlord is not required to pay for the changes.) The Act further requires that new multifamily housing with four or more units be designed and built to allow access for persons with disabilities. This includes accessible common use areas, doors that are wide enough for wheelchairs, kitchens and bathrooms that allow a person using a wheelchair to maneuver, and other adaptable features within the units. Complaints of Fair Housing Act violations may be filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. For more information or to file a complaint, contact:
By phone: (800) 669-9777 (voice) (800) 927-9275 (TTY)
For questions about the accessibility provisions of the Fair Housing Act, contact Fair Housing FIRST at:
(888) 341-7781 (voice/TTY)
For publications, you may call the Housing and Urban Development Customer Service Center at:
(800) 767-7468 (voice/relay)
Additionally, the Department of Justice can file cases involving a pattern or practice of discrimination. The Fair Housing Act may also be enforced through private lawsuits.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Section 504 prohibits discrimination based on disability in any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990
Title II prohibits discrimination based on disability in programs, services, and activities provided or made available by public entities. HUD enforces Title II when it relates to state and local public housing, housing assistance and housing referrals.
Architectural Barriers Act of 1968
The Architectural Barriers Act requires that buildings and facilities designed, constructed, altered, or leased with certain federal funds after September 1969 must be accessible to and useable by people with disabilities.
Executive Order 13217
Executive Order 13217 requires federal agencies to evaluate their policies and programs to determine if any can be revised or modified to improve the availability of community-based living arrangements for persons with disabilities.
How do these protections apply to tenants in NYC?
Disabled people have significant protections when they rent living space. First, when you are seeking a rental, landlords are not allowed to ask whether you have a disability or illness, or ask to see your medical records. After moving in, your landlord may have to provide you with accommodations, at the landlord’s expense, and your landlord may have to allow you to make reasonable modifications to your living unit at your own expense.
Who Is Considered Disabled?
The federal Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act (42 U.S. Code §§ 3601-3619, 3631) prohibit discrimination against people who have a physical or mental disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities. These include (but are not limited to):
• mobility impairments
• hearing impairments
• visual impairments
• chronic alcoholism (if it is being addressed through a recovery program)
• mental illness
• HIV, AIDS, and AIDS-Related Complex
• intellectual disability
Discrimination is also prohibited against anyone who has a history of such a disability or is regarded by others as though they have such a disability.
Discriminatory Questions Not Allowed
Landlords are not allowed to question applicants about a disability or illness, or ask to see medical records. Even if it is obvious that you are disabled — for example, you use a wheelchair or wear a hearing aid — it is nevertheless illegal to inquire how severely you are disabled.
The policy behind this rule is simple: No matter how well-intentioned, the landlord cannot make decisions about where and how you will live on the property that he would not make were you not disabled. For example, if there are two units for rent — one on the ground floor and one three stories up — the landlord must show both units to an applicant who uses a wheelchair, however reasonable he thinks it would be for the person to consider only the ground floor unit.
Mental or Emotional Impairments
If you had, or have mental or emotional impairments that make you disabled, or if you appear to have them, you must be evaluated by the landlord on the basis of your financial stability and history as a tenant, not on the basis of your mental health. A landlord may reject you only if he can point to specific instances of past behavior that would make you dangerous to others (such as information from a previous landlord that you repeatedly threatened or assaulted other residents). If you cannot meet the good-tenant criteria that the landlord applies to all applicants (such as a minimum rent-to-income ratio), you may be rejected on that basis, though landlords must consider a proffered cosigner if you are otherwise qualified for the rental but for your income.
Disabled Tenants’ Right to Accommodations by the Landlord
Landlords must accommodate the needs of disabled tenants, within reason, at the landlord’s own expense (42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(B)). As a disabled tenant, you may expect your landlord to reasonably adjust rules, procedures, or services in order to give you an equal opportunity to use and enjoy your dwelling unit or a common space. Accommodations can include such things as parking: If the landlord provides parking in the first place, providing a close-in, spacious parking space would be an accommodation for a tenant who uses a wheelchair.
Does your landlord’s duty to accommodate disabled tenants mean that you can expect every rule and procedure to be changed at your request?
No. Although landlords are expected to accommodate “reasonable” requests, they need not undertake changes that would seriously impair their ability to run their business. For example, if an applicant who uses crutches prefers the third-story apartment in a walk-up building to the one on the ground floor, the landlord does not have to rip the building apart to install an elevator. That expense would be unreasonable.
Disabled Tenants’ Right to Make Modifications
Landlords must allow disabled tenants to make reasonable modifications to their living unit or common areas at their expense, if needed for the person to comfortably and safely live in the unit. (42 U.S.C. § 3604(f)(3)(A).) You have the right to modify your living space to the extent necessary to make the space safe and comfortable, as long as the modifications will not make the unit unacceptable to the next tenant, or if you agree and are financially able to undo the modification when you leave.
Examples of modifications undertaken by a disabled tenant include:
• lowering countertops for a tenant who uses a wheelchair
• installing special faucets or door handles for persons with limited hand use
• modifying kitchen appliances to accommodate a blind tenant, and
• installing a ramp to allow wheelchair access to a raised living room.
These modifications must be reasonable and made with prior approval. A landlord is entitled to ask for a description of the proposed modifications, proof that they will be done in a workman-like manner, and evidence that you are obtaining any necessary building permits. In addition, if you propose to modify the unit in a way that will require restoration when you leave (such as the re-positioning of lowered kitchen counters), the landlord may require you to pay into an interest-bearing escrow account the amount estimated for the restoration. (The interest will belong to you.)
Proof of Need for Accommodation or Modification
Landlords are entitled to ask for proof that the accommodation or modification you have requested will address your needs. For some disabilities — for example, installing a ramp to accommodate a wheelchair — the solutions are obvious. But other disabilities, especially mental ones, are not obvious, and their accommodation isn’t either — for example, removing doors to accommodate a person who is fearful of closed spaces. Without some proof, your landlord has no way of knowing whether your request is legitimate or a ruse to obtain special treatment.
If you want a specific accommodation or modification and your disability is not obvious (or if you anticipate an argument with your landlord regarding the necessity of what you have proposed), have your proof ready before you make your request. Ask your physician or therapist for a letter attesting that you need what are asking for and that it will meet your needs. To protect your privacy, carefully explain to the physician or other writer that he need not explain the disability; he need only certify that the changes you would like are appropriate to your situation.
What If My Landlord Refuses My Request for Reasonable Accomodation or Otherwise Interferes with Making My Apartment Accessible?
If your landlord refuses your request for reasonable accomodation or fails to provide reasonable accomodation, you can file a complaint with the New York City Commission on Human Rights. The NYCCHR can also be reached by phone by calling 311 or (212) 416-0197