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Is a co-op board allowed to ask if I have children?

By Alanna Schubach | July 27, 2021 - 12:30PM 

If the applicant is rejected, a question about children could form the basis of a discrimination claim.

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Question:

I was surprised to be asked during a co-op board interview whether I have children. I was told the board wanted to be sure no one else would be living with me in the apartment. Still, the question took me aback and struck me as possibly illegal. Am I right?

Answer:

The question is not illegal, but it is ill-advised on the part of the board members, our experts say. 

"In order to avoid baseless discrimination claims, a board should only agree to interview a prospective purchaser or tenant after a complete application has been submitted, and the board has determined that the applicant meets all of the applicable financial tests," says Jeffrey Reich, a partner in the law firm of Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas

The board should avoid asking questions that could be perceived as running afoul of city, state and federal anti-discrimination laws, he adds. This would include questions about a prospective shareholder's age, citizenship, nationality, religion, race, gender, and marital status; it also includes whether or not they have children. You can see a list of all the classes protected under New York City's human rights law

"The question about whether the writer has any children is one that I would counsel my board clients against asking," Reich says. "It is not that the question is illegal. It's just that should the applicant be rejected, the fact that the question was asked could form the basis of a discrimination claim." 

Similarly, questions about whether an applicant plans to host guests in their apartment could be perceived as digging for information on marital status, and could also be basis for discrimination claims, should the applicant be rejected. 

Fair game for discussion at a co-op board interview includes matters like who will live in the apartment (but not direct questions about children) and whether the applicant has pets, Reich says. The board may also ask for clarification or explanation of any potential issues raised in the application; they might also provide information about the building and the neighborhood, and ask why an applicant wants to live there.

For more about what to expect, see our list of 11 potentially tricky co-op board interview questions


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