By Benyamin Davidsons
A proposed bill would require Co-Op Boards to provide a written explanation of why it is turning down a potential buyer.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, in an effort to curb housing discrimination, New York State lawmakers are rolling out a new measure mandating that residential boards offer an explanation in writing when rejecting a potential apartment buyer. Currently, boards do not need to offer any reason, and rarely opt to specify their objection.
Democrats have previously brought forth similar bills, but to no avail. Now, it is being sponsored by housing committee chair Senator Brian Kavanagh (D., Manhattan), who will try to bring it to vote this year. Democrats feel they have an improved chance of getting the bill passed thanks to the current progressive sway of the state legislature.
Fair-housing advocates say that while it is illegal for co-Op boards to reject prospective residents based on a potential buyer’s race, sexual orientation or religion, there is no way of holding a board accountable. Local and federal antidiscrimination laws cannot be effective unless there is transparency for board decisions, advocates hold. Assemblyman N. Nick Perry, a sponsor of the bill in the State Assembly, noted that while discrimination is much less prevalent than it used to be, there is still the need to increase transparency to ensure that bias is not playing a part in the decision making.
As per the WSJ, the proposed bill also would require co-ops to specify their acceptance policies for applicants at the time of application, and to notify applicants of their decision within 90 days of the completed application.
Opponents to the bill argue that the proposed bill could lead to a flood of lawsuits against boards, if applicants don’t believe the stated reason. “I am concerned that something like this may actually create fodder for somebody who wants to make a claim of discrimination where the reasons may be legitimate,” said Steven Wagner, a real-estate lawyer. He said, weak financials or lack of required documents are still legitimate concerns against an applicant. Opponents to the bill say the risk of lawsuits could also dissuade residents from serving on co-op boards. “The vast majority of co-ops function like little democracies and work well,” said Mary Ann Rothman, executive director of the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums, a lobbying and advocacy group. “People who serve on the board serve as volunteers and are protecting their own home and community.”