State Senate OKs 2 bills to reduce discriminatory real estate practices

Originally published in Newsday

ALBANY — State Senate Democrats on Monday revived a pair of bills that were omitted from a package of measures enacted last year to reduce discriminatory real estate practices.

One bill would require the state attorney general’s office to annually conduct "fair housing testing" — using undercover investigators — to ensure that brokers aren’t violating anti-discrimination laws by, for example, steering customers toward or away certain neighborhoods, based on race.

The other bill would require real estate brokers and sales agents to compile and report client demographic data to the secretary of state.

The Senate overwhelmingly approved both bills Monday, though it isn’t clear if or when the Assembly will act.

The two proposals were part of a series of bill proposals spurred by Newsday’s "Long Island Divided" investigative series about real estate practices.

The newspaper’s investigation found evidence of widespread unequal treatment of minority communities and minority homebuyers. Covering three years, the findings included evidence that potential homebuyers were steered to neighborhoods based on race and that agents in some cases required preapproval for mortgages from black customers but not white ones.

The Senate and Assembly approved nine bills in 2021 sparked by the investigation; Gov. Kathy Hochul signed them into law in December.

The package included new laws increasing fines for violating housing discrimination laws, mandating more anti-bias training, standardizing procedures for agents and increasing brokers’ fees to pay for deploying undercover homebuyers.

But the bill actually requiring the state to do undercover testing annually fell off the negotiating table. Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) reintroduced it this year.

"Paired covert testing, the kind undertaken by Newsday in their investigation, is the gold standard to ensure that everyone is treated fairly when they’re looking to buy a home, and it’s something that must be done regularly in order to protect the American Dream for all of our neighbors," Kaplan said in a statement.