Can a NYC Landlord Interview a Prospective Tenant?

While it’s not illegal for a NYC landlord to interview a prospective tenant, conducting an interview puts a landlord at risk of potential fair housing violations. Fair housing laws in NYC are strict, and violations carry heavy penalties.

An in-person (or video) interview can easily reveal one or more protected classes or characteristics of a prospective tenant which a landlord otherwise wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of in the normal course.

Once a landlord becomes aware of a tenant’s protected characteristics, the landlord can easily be accused of conscious or unconscious unlawful bias by a prospective tenant when deciding whether to offer a lease to a prospective tenant.

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Landlords (and agents) in New York are subject to federal, state and local fair housing laws, which include:

  • Federal Fair Housing Act

  • New York State Human Rights Law

  • New York City Human Rights Law

The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on the following actual or perceived characteristics:

  • Race

  • Familial status (presence of children)

  • Color

  • National origin

  • Religion

  • Disability (physical or mental)

  • Sex

The New York State Human Rights Law protects the following additional actual or perceived characteristics:

  • Creed

  • Age

  • Sexual orientation

  • Marital status

  • Military status

The New York City Human Rights Law goes even further and protects the following additional actual or perceived characteristics:

  • Gender

  • Citizenship status

  • Partnership status

  • Gender identity

  • Lawful occupation

  • Lawful source of income (including public assistance or housing assistance, social security, supplemental security income, pensions, annuities, or unemployment benefits)

As you can probably tell, NYC has one of the broadest and most all-encompassing fair housing legislative frameworks nationwide.

It's not illegal for a NYC landlord to interview a prospective tenant, but conducting an interview puts a landlord at risk of potential fair housing violations.

New York City takes fair housing so seriously that there are no less than four ways for individuals to report alleged fair housing violations:

  • Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO)

  • Law Enforcement Bureau of the NYC Commission on Human Rights (NYCCHR)

  • New York State Division of Human Rights

  • Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Attorney General’s Office

Given the litany of fair housing laws and multitude of agencies tasked with investigating any and all allegations, we strongly discourage New York City landlords from interviewing prospective tenants. It’s just not worth the risk.

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Fair housing laws in New York State cover most housing categories, with the following exceptions:

  • One or two family owner-occupied buildings

  • Room rentals in housing for individuals of the same sex

  • Room rentals in owner-occupied housing

A NYS Housing and Anti-Discrimination Notice must be prominently posted in all real estate broker offices and all public open houses in New York City. In addition, agents are required to present the NYS Fair Housing and Anti-Discrimination Disclosure Form to all prospective purchasers, tenants, sellers or landlords upon first substantive contact.

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Disclosure: Hauseit® and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal, financial or accounting advice. No representation, guarantee or warranty of any kind is made regarding the completeness or accuracy of information provided. Hauseit LLC is a Licensed Real Estate Broker, licensed to do business in New York under license number 10991232340. Principal Office: 244 Fifth Avenue, Suite 2950, New York, NY 10001.

2 thoughts on “Can a NYC Landlord Interview a Prospective Tenant?”

  1. Wait hold on here. I’ve often heard it’s good advice to interview tenants even face to face, as your gut feel may tell you whether they will be good tenants or not. You seriously recommend not going off of anything but their credit and what they submit by paper? Isn’t face to face the best way to protect against fraud?

    1. Sonja Gosine, Spokesperson at Hauseit®

      Not interviewing a tenant certainly sounds counterintuitive, but it’s just not worth the risk in NYC. Imagine if you list your apartment for rent and receive several offers. You interview a tenant face to face and ultimately decide not to rent to that person because they showed up late and acted immature during the interview. A few weeks later, you receive word from the New York State Division of Human Rights that you’ve been accused of conscious (or unconscious) unlawful bias by this resentful individual. Turns out they are part of some protected class which you didn’t even happen to notice during the interview. Now you face years of investigations, hearings and thousands of dollars in legal fees. Is it worth it?

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