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I'll email the Nooklyn real estate agents in the New York City area with a question about the property (e.g. floor level, elevator availability, cost of parking, etc.), and they almost always respond without answering the question, and saying they can show the apartment, but then ask for move-in date, income, and credit-score. Answering politely that I'll share my personal information after the viewing, they respond with "we can set up a viewing", and ask again about the above questions.

Refusal to provide them with this information, and the agent simply stops responding to emails and essentially prevents showing the property.

Is any of this behavior legal in NYC?

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    Agencies may be protecting their employees (and landlords, and indirectly prospective tenants) by reducing the amount of facetime they have with people during the coronavirus pandemic. In a different context, I know some realtors in the greater NYC area only show houses to purchasers who already have their mortgage pre-approval, for exactly this reason. – jez May 3 at 12:21
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    They don't make money unless you buy the place, it should be obvious why they aren't going to waste their time with unserious or unqualified buyers. They aren't required to show you a million dollar penthouse anymore than a luxury auto seller is required to let you test drive a 300k lamborghini, and there's nothing legally special about a penthouse vs a studio. – eps May 3 at 13:41
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    Income is not a protected class and neither is your availability to move in. If the agent has someone interested in moving in in 5 months and you would like to move in within 3 months then they would prefer to work with you assuming that your income signals an ability to afford it. Verification of your ability to afford it will come at a later time. – MonkeyZeus May 3 at 15:42
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    @KingsInnerSoul restrictions being lifted doesn't necessarily mean the activities are safe. – Kat May 4 at 15:57
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    Almost anywhere but NYC this would be legal, but NYC's rental laws are arcane, so I won't answer this one unless I find time to research it. – ohwilleke May 5 at 12:45
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Yes

Businesses (and consumers) can choose who to do business with and what information they ask for and disclose and when they do that.

If you’re uncomfortable with how they do business, don’t deal with them. If they don’t like how you do business, they are free not to deal with you.

This is called discrimination. However, it is not unlawful because only discrimination against a person due to membership of a protected classes is unlawful. This person “won’t answer my questions” is not discrimination based on a protected class (unless they are a monk who has taken a vow of silence).

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    To an extent, of course. Real estate agents are state-licensed professionals. And their behavior cannot (for example) have housing discrimination as its designed outcome. – grovkin May 3 at 5:16
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    You mean the class of people "who refuses to cooperate with our screening process/sales funnel" is not a protected class. – Harper - Reinstate Monica May 3 at 21:57
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    "The class “won’t answer my questions” is not a protected class." Your understanding of the law seems muddled here. Whether the OP belongs to a protected class (which we have no information on) is separate from the adverse actions a discriminatory agent/landlord might take. Moreover, agents' initial screening on income could be considered discriminatory, eg in states (not NY) where it is illegal to discriminate based on Section 8 voucher status. Lawfulness just depends on the intent of the agents (as @grovkin stated) or the degree of discriminatory impact. – Hasse1987 May 3 at 22:12
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    "Whether the OP belongs to a protected class" Wouldn't that be true by default? My understanding is that the law doesn't protect certain people, it protects all people from treatment based on certain characteristics. – NPSF3000 May 4 at 1:02
  • This is prima facie legal, but what would be very illegal is if this behaviour is only seen by particular people according to protected characteristics. Without interesting experiments it may be hard to know whether a differently presenting person would get the same treatment. – obscurans May 4 at 18:00
4

Sam Wilson: Found a place in Brookyln yet?

Steve Rogers/Captain America: I don't think I can afford a place in Brooklyn.

NYC is a very in-demand market, with many apartment-seekers being out-of-state dreamers, or local residents who have realistically been priced out of their own town by gentrification. This demand overloads landlords - ties up a lot of their time. Landlords need to efficiently screen out the unqualified, and "too low wage" and "too low credit score" are probably the #1 and #2 causes of rejection.

Is it unreasonable to collect salary and FICO Score? No.

Here's the thing. "PII" requires "Personal". Consider the following data:

  Steve      $95,000     720      June 1

Is this PII? No, it's not, because it doesn't definitely connect to a person. There are probably 100,000 Steve's in the NYC area, this doesn't say which one that is. Nor is there a viable path to misusing this data. It wouldn't be a data breach, because it's not connected with an identity.

If you don't want them having that data about you, then don't give them You - just let yourself be "Steve".

They would then proceed on the basis that they are willing to rent to any random person whose nickname is "Steve", on the basis that they make $95,000 and have a 720 credit score and want to rent on 6/1/21. After meeting you, their decision is made (so long as your facts actually do check out. Obviously if a credit check pulls a 380 score, then the deal is off.)

So if "Steve" likes the place also, then there's a meeting of the minds and now it's time: "Steve" discloses "My proper name is Samuel Thornton Hoppledinger GC, social 100-00-1234, employer is Acme Wing Nuts" etc. They run Steve's credit, checks out, rented.

They don't even need to retain that data

No need to even retain

  Steve      $95,000     720      June 1

All you really need is

  Steve      Claims Good Credit     June 1

And you don't even need to retain that. As long you have good processes, all you need to do is pre-check their qualifications to even enter the sales funnel. Now you only need to record

  Steve      June 1    

and the mere presence on that list implies qualification. And that's not sensitive at all, even if merged with email, phone and other identifiable data.

Now, circle that back 'round to your experience.

An aside: common scams

Now, some landlords run a scam where they charge you $30 to run your credit, but don't actually run your credit and simply pocket the $30. Those landlords will want all your details, solely because they need to maintain the pretense that they will run your credit. They are unlikely to misuse your PII for other purposes, but you never know - least, someone else may fish it out of the trash can they threw your application in.

You are also talking to real estate agents not direct landlords, and obviously the agent is trying to place you in agency relationship with themselves, either to charge you a fee for finding you a home, or because they have agreements with select landlords to be paid a fee when they place a reliable tenant. In which case they will only show you certain properties where that agreement exists.

Another scam is trying to get you to sign an agency agreement, which is that they are your sole agent for your search, and you agree to pay them (if the landlord doesn't) even if you find a place on your own without their help. This is always bad news and the answer is "hell no".

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  • Do you know why your "email" is not listed here? Or anywhere really? Because it is so easy to identify who you are with your "email". It is not the "Steve" scenario you are presenting, because it is not 1920's anymore, it is 2021 - and using your first name and email I can almost always find your full name, current address, employer, and in some cases even background check. I can do a reverse profile image search, and find you as well. The amount of personal information available online is amazing - so having a single piece of it is significant. – KingsInnerSoul May 5 at 12:53
  • @KingsInnerSoul Good point. But still, that can be solved by some basic data hygiene. I would keep a paper ledger with the first/salary/FICO and the other stuff electronic. But even then, there's no reason for the agent to retain salary/FICO, all they really need is the result which is a binary approvable/not. You don't even need to store THAT; just don't give appointments to people who didn't qualify. Back to what OP experienced. – Harper - Reinstate Monica May 5 at 17:56

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