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Know Your Rights Part 2: Navigating Housing in New York As an Immigrant

According to commission and advocacy groups for immigrant rights, housing discrimination incidents are severely underreported. Immigrants fear retribution if they bring cases forward, because many landlords and housing managers threaten them with contacting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

On September 12th, one of these cases became fully publicized when a judge decided a landlord had violated NYC’s human rights law. The landlord had threatened and harassed one of her tenants, saying she would contact ICE if the tenant didn’t pay her rent. The judge recommended the landlord pay a $17,000 fine, and experts say this decision may set a precedent for all future cases.

While the tenant was living in the U.S. on an expired visa, NYC law protected her from housing discrimination based on immigration status. “We believe [this court decision] not only sets a precedent for protecting potential victims of housing discrimination from being threatened with ICE, but that it also sends a clear message for those who would consider engaging in such discrimination,” said Sapna V. Raj, Deputy Commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau.

Last month, we discussed immigrant employment rights in New York. Fortunately, if you are an immigrant worker in the Big Apple, the law is on your side. Knowing and advocating for your rights is crucial, however, because some employers may not agree with state and federal protections for immigrants.

Housing is similar to employment, in that landlords must treat all tenants equally—no matter their immigration status. In fact, NY Attorney General Letitia James personally informed the state about an immigration hotline in an open letter addressed to all New Yorkers.

To help you better understand your rights, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about living in New York as an immigrant.

Can My Landlord Evict Me Because I’m an Immigrant?

No. Whether you have a lease or you are paying month-to-month, immigration status is not a valid reason to evict you. Like all tenants, you have the following rights regarding evictions:

  • If you have lived in the leased or rented home for 30 or more days, your landlord must give you formal notice and the opportunity to challenge the eviction in court.
  • Only a sheriff, marshal, or constable can carry out the eviction notice—not the landlord.
  • Your landlord cannot threaten you with violence, lock you out of your home, take your possessions, or cut off essential utilities.

If your landlord breaks any of these laws, you can take them to court, and you may receive compensation.

Can My Landlord Threaten to Report Me to ICE?

As we saw in the judge’s decision on September 12th, New York City does not tolerate harassment of any kind from landlords. You have the right to live without fear of this treatment, no matter your immigration status. Unlawful harassment includes threats, verbal abuse, shutting off heat or hot water, and taking you to court multiple times without good reason.

Can I File a Complaint About My Landlord?

You can file harassment complaints with the Office of the Attorney General. You will not be asked about your immigration status at any point. You can also contact the Civil Rights Bureau if you feel your landlord has discriminated against you.

What if I File a Complaint and My Landlord Retaliates?

City and state human rights laws in New York prohibit landlords from retaliating against you after you report them for discriminatory actions. Retaliation could include reporting you to ICE, turning off your utilities, or attempting to evict you. All of these actions are illegal.

Within the state of New York, housing and immigration laws differ from city to city. In general, however, you are protected as both an employee and a tenant—even if you are undocumented, seeking asylum, or living and working here on a temporary visa. The better your understanding of your constitutional rights, the better you can advocate for yourself and your loved ones.

The Law Office of Robert J. Maher, PC is dedicated to preserving the rights of immigrants in New York. We believe you deserve the opportunity to work and live in the U.S. without fear or threats, harassment, termination, or eviction. For more information about how we can help you, or to schedule your consultation with our firm, call (646) 681-1977 today.