Despite the fact that most people would agree that discrimination is a bad thing, discrimination persists, which suggests either that existing laws against it are sometimes ignored, or that the legal definition of ‘discrimination’ isn’t always clear. Fortunately, when it comes to condos, co-ops and HOAs there are laws at the federal, state and local levels to guide boards in making decisions that will steer them clear of the ethical breach that discriminatory practices represent, as well as the legal penalties that can follow.
And those penalties can be high indeed. In New York City, a pair of legal decisions around the turn of the last century—specifically, the federal Broome v. Biondi et al and the New York State Biondi v. Beekman Hill House Apartment Corporation—revolving around a finding of race-based discrimination against prospective co-op tenants resulted in board members learning that they could be held individually liable for decisions that violate the law. The case was significant enough that the decisions around it had reverberations that affect how discrimination law is discussed today.
While not every state or municipality has a case with the impact of Biondi, discrimination can happen anywhere, and judicial decisions inform what happens in its aftermath, as does the political and cultural climate at any time. And recent rules passed by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in October of 2016 require boards to now be proactive in addressing harassment of residents, so the responsibility to uphold basic ethics and maintain a fair and equitable community is only heightening.
The NEw Jersey Cooperator spoke with attorneys from different markets in effort to discern which major issues inform discrimination law in their respective jurisdictions, and of what boards should be aware that may help shape law in the near future.
Arguably the ripest areas in which discrimination issues arise are cultural, racial and religious. While some discrimination motivated by prejudice is blatant and easily called out, the cultural conversation is nuanced and constantly in flux, sometimes causing conflict where they may not be any malicious intent.