Acting pursuant to state law, the New York Division of Human Rights initiated a complaint against a property manager in New York City alleging discrimination against individuals based on their immigration status.

The complaint followed an investigation which revealed an agent for the landlord posted a letter addressed to “all tenants” on the front door of the property. The letter demanded that residents provide proof of employment, a photo identification, Social Security card, Green Card or passport, or would face a possible eviction from their homes. In addition to the letter on the door, the landlord made a number of public statements to various media outlets which the state officials contend demonstrate a discriminatory view toward New Yorkers of Latin American descent. Now, remember my usual caveat that just because a complaint has been filed does not mean a defendant is liable or that the charges have merit. Indeed, I always know there are (at least) two sides to every story.

Now, while “immigration status” is not specifically a protected class under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), it is certainly likely this complaint could have been filed pursuant to the federal statute using national origin, race, or creed – which are protected classes under the FHA.

To be clear, management has an absolute right (and indeed should) have a non-discriminatory resident selection criteria in place which requires that all applicants undergo a credit and criminal background screen. Those checks are a leasing office best practice. But we should not use credit and criminal background screens to do an immigration status check.  Or there might be a need to speak with a lawyer like me.

Just A Thought.