When the Long Island Board of REALTORS® heard that the town board in Riverhead, N.Y., planned to introduce changes to the town’s rental code that could potentially violate residents’ civil rights, staff knew they had to act. Alerted to the changes by a local housing fair housing agency, LIBOR reached out to the National Association of REALTORS® for assistance in tackling the issue.
The code amendments that caused the most concern proposed a new legal definition of the term “family” in the town of Riverhead, and proposed to make it illegal for any tenants to occupy a rental unit in the town unless those tenants met the new definition. The definition of family that was presented was far too narrow, said Marlo Dilts, Senior Director of Public Policy and Government Affairs at LIBOR, and had the potential to unlawfully discriminate against low-income and minority households, multigenerational families, and aging parents or disabled individuals who need to live in a group setting. In addition, she said, the change could potentially put housing providers in the position of having to ask questions that might violate the Fair Housing Act. “Some of the language in there was very archaic and offensive, and so we wanted to make sure that we addressed each line of their policy,” said Dilts.
LIBOR was able to draw on strong community and association partners in order to combat the ordinance. One important partner, said LIBOR CEO Tessa Hultz, was local fair housing agency Long Island Housing Services, without whom the association wouldn’t have known of the existence of the ordinance. An equally critical partner was NAR, who was able to offer LIBOR the services of a consultant—an expert in fair housing law—who helped the association craft a letter to the town and provided talking points for a presentation before the town board at a public hearing on August 17. “When you have something like this, it’s important to go at it with your best, most well-thought-out talking points,” said Hultz. “And NAR has an outstanding policy department, an outstanding advocacy department. It’s an absolute head start in being able to rapidly respond.”
Though the town of Riverhead has yet to make their final decision on the rental code changes, Dilts was optimistic that LIBOR’s presentation had an impact, especially since the board has postponed a vote and appears to be still deliberating. “I did make it a point to point out some of the language in their proposal that needed to be addressed,” said Dilts. “I hope they take that into consideration and come up with a better bill.”
For more information on how your association can receive assistance with fair housing issues, contact Alexia Smokler, Senior Policy Representative for Fair Housing at NAR, firstname.lastname@example.org.