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Discriminatory Housing Ads Proliferate Online

Fair housing complaints spiked up 17 percent over the past year, according to a report just out from the National Fair Housing Alliance, a DC-based consortium of more than 220 private, nonprofit fair housing groups around the country. They blame the foreclosure crisis, which has forced a lot of families into the rental market, and the rise of Internet advertising, which has scant gatekeeping regarding the content that's posted.

After I saw alliance's report, I spent about half an hour searching Washington-area for-rent ads on Craigslist just to see what I might find. In just that brief search, I found a few eye-openers--and then called Shanna Smith, president and chief executive of the alliance, for her reactions.

From an ad for a one-bedroom apartment: "Mt. Pleasant also has a great ethnic mix of professionals and young families ... The other three units are occupied by professionals in their early 30s."
Smith said, "Yeah, that is an example. When you talk about young professionals and families, you have to think of everybody who is excluded from that." What about people who work in service industries or building construction, she asked. Would they feel welcome? And she acknowledged that the ad-writer may have thought it was a positive to talk about "a great ethnic mix," she said it's important to realize how some may see ethnic as a code word meaning "oh, that's where African-Americans live so maybe I don't want to live there."

Btw, that was not the only ad I found that referred to "young professionals."

Another example, this one for a one-bedroom basement apartment in Lanham. It referred to a "quiet home," a "quiet neighborhood," and a "peaceful home."
Smith laughed when I read that one. "If you're a family with kids, well, kids aren't quiet," she said. An ad like that would not, by itself, be cause for her organization to bring a fair housing lawsuit, she said, but it could cause them to have trained testers investigate to see if they were treated differently because of race, color, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin--the classifications protected under federal fair housing laws.

How to do the right thing when advertising a property for sale or rent? Talk about the property, not the people. That simple principle should apply whether you place your ad in a print publication or on a free online site.

Smith said anyone who suspects they have been a victim of discriminatory treatment should contact their local nonprofit fair-housing center. In the Washington area, that's the Equal Rights Center, 202-234-3062.

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  May 5, 2009; 6:00 AM ET
Categories:  Buying , Foreclosure , Selling  
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Next: Dept. of Hopeful News: A Special Home

Comments

This is preposterous. Saying "quiet home, quiet neighborhood" IS talking about the property.

People actually do want information about what kind of place it is, what kind of neighborhood. And they want to know if they'll feel comfortable there. I'd rather know before I waste my time going to see the place.

But apparently describing the place is discriminatory. What if I say it has a nice view? Does that discriminate against the visually impaired? Walk to park and shops? Opps, might make people in wheelchairs think they're not welcome.

If I had a basement apartment, I wouldn't want to rent it to anyone with kids, they're noisy and destructive. Why can't I choose to live without kids around? Why can't there be adults-only apartment complexes? Doesn't forcing everyone to accept kids discriminate against the child-free? After all, you choose to have kids, you don't choose to be a certain race or gender.

Posted by: lalalu1 | May 5, 2009 3:17 PM | Report abuse

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