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What are my housing rights as an undocumented immigrant?

The issue of immigrants of uncertain status isn't one that affects New York alone. All across the country, there are individuals lacking proper documentation. Anxiety about being deported, separated from family, facing eviction or landlord harassment has surely always been present, but it's clearly at an all-time high these days.

Who is not aware of news about stepped up action by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials? Just last month, ICE reportedly zeroed in on a few neighborhoods on Staten Island, arresting 41 people. Housing organizing advocates say the moves have effectively driven worried tenants deeper into the shadows, afraid to step foot outside their apartments. They need to know that being undocumented does not mean they are without legal protections.

For starters, it is against the law for a landlord to use immigration status as an excuse to take abusive action against a tenant. Federal rules say it's OK for landlords to ask for confirmation of identity to assess the financial position of a prospective tenant. However, they cannot deny housing based on immigration status in most cases. They cannot charge higher rent on such grounds or deny services. If they threaten to inform ICE to prevent an undocumented tenant from filing a complaint, that's illegal, too.

Nor can a landlord take one-sided action to evict you. Eviction efforts must conform to the law and that requires a court giving its approval first.

Those facts are easy to point out, but that does not mean it is easy to fight back. Those with experience in waging such disputes appreciate that mounting a battle against abusive housing practices brings the issue and the status of those involved into the light. We offer that makes speaking with an attorney all the more important.

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