New NYS Housing Law Requires Notice of Disability Accommodation Rights, But Sample Agency Form Raises Concerns for City Buildings

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Seyfarth Synopsis: Cooperatives and landlords of residential buildings in New York State are required by a new law to provide written notice to tenants of their right to request reasonable accommodations or modifications based on disability by Thursday, April 1, 2021.

What the New Law Requires

The new law (here) amends the existing provisions of Section 296 of the New York State Human Rights Law (“NYSHRL”) prohibiting discrimination in housing based on disability. Housing providers must send a written notice to current and prospective tenants of their “right to request reasonable modifications or accommodations if they have a disability[.]” Additionally, the law requires conspicuous posting of the notice. On or before April 1, 2021, housing providers must send or deliver the required written notice to existing tenants and must conspicuously post that notice in the building. Thereafter, new tenants must be provided with the written notice within 30 days from the beginning of their tenancy.

The specific form of the notice, as well as the particulars of the posting requirements, are subject to implementing regulations by the New York State Division of Human Rights (“Division), which have not yet been issued. What the Division has issued is a sample notice form (here). Notably, the Division’s sample form provides, not only statements that tenants with disabilities can request accommodations by law, but also examples of such requests, accessible design requirements for covered buildings, and how to file agency complaints against housing providers that fail to comply.

What Housing Providers are Covered?

The new law applies to any housing provider that leases apartments, units, or homes, including but not limited to publicly-assisted housing. Residents entitled to the notice would include, for example, shareholders and subtenants in cooperatives, tenants in rental apartment buildings, and tenants in single or multi-family family homes. It does not appear that condominiums are required to provide the notice to unit owners, since the law limits the obligation to “tenants” (however, individual condominium unit owners who rent or lease their units may have an obligation to comply as a landlord).

Conclusions

For New York City buildings, it is important to note that there are important distinctions between the NYSHRL and the New York City Human Rights Law (the “City law”). The City law has been interpreted to provide more expansive anti-discrimination protections for residents with disabilities than the NYSHRL, including by shifting more accommodations-related costs to the housing provider. In our assessment, while the Division website states that the sample form complies with the new law, certain examples provided are not necessarily consistent with existing City law requirements and in that regard are likely to cause confusion. Distributing a mass mailing with accommodation examples may also impact the number of related inquiries and requests that housing providers receive. Covered housing providers should consult with experienced counsel in determining how to satisfy the requirements of the new law.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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