Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today directed the New York State Departments of State, Homes and Community Renewal, and the Division of Human Rights to launch a comprehensive statewide investigation of landlord policies and practices that may discriminate against individuals based on their immigration status, national origin, ethnicity or race. Additionally, the state will launch a new campaign designed to educate both landlord and tenants about their legal rights and responsibilities. This announcement comes following an increase in reports that landlords are illegally demanding that tenants provide proof of citizenship or be subject to eviction from their homes.
"These allegations of fear and intimidation are unacceptable, illegal, and run counter to everything New York represents," Governor Cuomo said. "We stand by the promise inscribed on the Statue of Liberty to protect the rights of all those seeking a better life as New Yorkers and will not stand idly by as people are threatened and harassed in their own homes. This action will help ensure renters are protected, that they know their rights, and that this ugly and repulsive behavior is stopped right in its tracks."
In New York, it is illegal to require a tenant to provide immigration status information as a condition to renew their lease. Owners of rent-regulated buildings may lawfully request social security numbers and supporting documentation from applicants or when a tenant signs their first lease, as part of a routine background and credit check for all prospective tenants. Landlords may also request verification of citizenship status to set up security deposit accounts in order to provide interest payments on the deposits. However, if a tenant is in the process of a lease renewal, landlords cannot request social security numbers or immigration information as a means to harass tenants into leaving their apartments. It is also unlawful to discriminate against or harass tenants because of their national origin or other protected classes under the Human Rights Law, or to retaliate against a tenant who opposes discrimination.
The Departments of State and Homes and Community Renewal, and the Division of Human Rights are empowered to investigate individual complaints of discrimination filed with the agencies, or, on its own motion, to initiate and file its own investigations and complaints of discrimination. At the Governor’s direction, these agencies will immediately undertake such an investigation in this matter.
The Office for New Americans, the Division of Human Rights, and Homes and Community Renewal are also working together to engage the immigrant community and inform them of their rights as New Yorkers. These initiatives advance the Governor's "We Are All Immigrants" directive. The Governor's charge to the agencies is to continue the legacy of protecting the rights and freedoms of all New Yorkers, including immigrants, so that we can continue to succeed together as we have for centuries, and ensure that the promise of refuge in our state is not distorted or disavowed.
The Governor's Immigrant Resource Guide outlines programs and initiatives designed to support immigrants and their families. In conjunction with the guide, Homes and Community Renewal and the Division of Human Rights have developed an Immigration and Housing Fact Sheet that addresses "Frequently Asked Questions" related to immigration status, housing discrimination, and tenant harassment.
Since its launch in 2013, the New York State Office for New Americans, the first state-level immigrant office created by statute in the nation, has provided comprehensive immigration services and legal assistance to more than 150,000 people on the path to citizenship, providing a wide range of free resources, from English classes, to naturalization prep, to entrepreneurship seminars. The Office is supported by a robust network of 27 Opportunity Centers throughout the State.
Earlier this year, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, through the Office for Americans, launched the second round of "NaturalizeNY" – the first-of-its-kind public-private partnership to encourage eligible immigrants in New York State with becoming U.S. citizens. The initiative provides comprehensive support through the naturalization process – featuring free eligibility screenings, application assistance, naturalization exam preparation, and for round two, a lottery for up to 1,500 vouchers for low-income citizenship-eligible immigrants. The Governor launched NaturalizeNY last July, and through its first six months, has helped more than 3,200 immigrant New Yorkers pursue United States citizenship, including over 2,250 low-income immigrants.
The Governor has announced several resources available to immigrants in New York State, including the first-in-the-nation public-private Liberty Defense Project. The partnership is supported by more than $10 million in funding to offer legal assistance and representation to immigrants in New York, regardless of their status, through a statewide network of attorneys and advocacy organizations.