Neil Garfinkel is quoted in an article by Vivian S. Toy in The New York Times:Questions Your Broker Can’t Ask.

An exceprt appears below:

The Real Estate Board of New York holds several training seminars on fair-housing laws every year. This year, Neil Garfinkel, residential counsel for the board and the person who runs the seminars, has also held special training sessions for several companies. He estimated that he has already trained about 2,000 brokers since January.

Mr. Garfinkel said that Ms. Kleier is certainly not alone in her apprehension. “A lot of brokers are concerned about the push-back from customers who feel that, ‘You’re my broker — why aren’t you helping me and answering my questions?’ ” he said.

His advice to brokers is to state clearly at the first meeting with any client that as brokers, they must adhere to all fair-housing laws. “Then when a question is asked, you can say, ‘Remember we talked about fair-housing laws? This is what’s against the law for me to talk about,’ ” he said. Most brokers are well aware of what’s against the law when it comes to race, religion and sex, Mr. Garfinkel said, but the laws on family status and occupation often draw gasps of surprise from brokers at his seminars. “But that’s exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Mr. Garfinkel goes on to warn brokers that they should not identify the school districts where apartments are located. This, despite the fact that real estate ads often boast that an address is zoned for top-rated schools like P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side or P.S. 234 in TriBeCa.

He said that while it is all right to name a school district when specifically asked, the fact should not be advertised because some school districts have distinctive racial compositions and advertising the district could be seen as a way of expressing preference for a specific race. Brokers are often stunned by this prohibition, he said, “but I’m a lawyer, and I’m going by the strict letter of the law.”

Steven James, the president of all Manhattan offices of Prudential Douglas Elliman, said he had brought Mr. Garfinkel in to speak to his brokers because “people sometimes say stupid things without thinking, and this brings everybody back to reality.”

The brokers were in for some surprises. Mr. Garfinkel explained that to follow the city law regarding occupations, they should not ask people what they do for a living. “I think that blew everybody’s mind,” Mr. James said. “I don’t think we’ve recovered from that yet.”

The question is natural in the course of any getting-to-know-you conversation, Mr. James said, “but the point is what’s normal and everyday may not be legal.”

Mr. Garfinkel said that the occupation protection is often referred to as “the attorney law,” because it is meant to stop buildings from discriminating against lawyers — some buildings fear that they will be litigious and consequently bad neighbors.

“Conceptually, it makes sense to me because why is it relevant what a person’s title is as long as they can afford the apartment?” Mr. Garfinkel said.


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