If you believe you've been the victim of illegal housing discrimination and your apartment is located in any of New York City's five boroughs, you have the option of filing a fair housing complaint with the Law Enforcement Bureau (LEB) of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.
If you decide to proceed with filing a complaint with LEB, here are the steps you'll need to take:
Step #1: Meet With LEB Intake Staff
To start the process, you must meet with a LEB staff attorney or investigator. You can visit the LEP weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. at their offices on the 10th floor of 40 Rector Street in Manhattan. Walk-ins are accepted, or call (212) 306-7450 to schedule an appointment.
If it's more convenient for you to meet LEB in another borough, you can schedule an appointment or just walk in to one of the Commission's Community Service Centers on certain weekdays, as follows:
- Brooklyn (Mondays only): 275 Livingston Street, 2nd Floor - (718) 722-3130
- The Bronx (Tuesdays only): 1932 Arthur Avenue, Room 203A - (718) 579-6900
- Queens (Wednesdays only): 153-01 Jamaica Avenue, Room 203 - (718) 657-2465
- Staten Island (Fridays only): 60 Bay Street, 7th Floor - (718) 390-8506
Note that New York City fair housing law protects prospects and tenants from discrimination based on certain protected classes, including actual or perceived race, creed, color, national origin, sex, age, disability, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, partnership status, alienage or citizenship status, lawful source of income, and familial status. Also, you must file housing discrimination complaints no later than a year after the most recent alleged violation.
If you are unable to visit LEB at these locations (for example, on account of a disability), they will discuss accommodations with you.
When meeting with LEB staff, bring any information that you believe would be relevant to your complaint. This may include names, addresses, and phone numbers of a landlord, property manager, or broker, and important dates when the alleged violations occurred. LEB staff will use this information to determine whether it will pursue your case.
Step #2: Sign a Complaint and Participate in Mediation
After meeting with you, LEB staff may try to intervene on your behalf to remedy the situation. If this effort doesn't work and LEB agrees to take on your case, LEB staff will ask you to sign a formal complaint. You and your landlord (or other opposing party) will then be invited to participate in a mediation program, with the aim of resolving your disputes amicably.
If mediation works and you believe you can settle, LEB will prepare a conciliation agreement for you and your landlord to sign. Read it carefully to make sure it reflects what you agreed. If you have any questions, ask LEB.
Step #3: Cooperate With LEB's Investigation
If mediation doesn't work, LEB will investigate your claim, which may include interviewing your landlord and other people who claim to have witnessed the alleged discrimination. You just need to be available to be interviewed and provide any cooperation LEB may need while it conducts its investigation.
Step #4: Await the Commission's Determination
Hopefully for you, the Commission will issue a "determination of probable cause." This means the Commission will formally charge your landlord with violating housing discrimination laws. But if the Commission finds there's not enough evidence to support the claim that your landlord has violated the law, it will issue a determination of "no probable cause" and close the case. If you disagree with the decision, ask the Commission about an appeal.
Step #5: Prepare for a Hearing
Following a determination of probable cause, your case will be assigned to an administrative law judge (of the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings), who will hold a pre-trial conference. If you aren't able to reach a settlement at the pre-trial conference, the judge will hold a hearing, then issue a Report and Recommendation. A panel of Commissioners will review the Report and Recommendation and issue a final Decision and Order.
The Commission can award a civil penalty of up to $250,000 per violation, among other relief, if it determines the discrimination was the result of a willful or malicious act.