Online housing discrimination primarily done by roommate-seekers, familial status, study finds

Oct 05, 2011

As more and more people use websites like Craigslist to find roommates and advertise apartment vacancies, the opportunities increase for housing discrimination law violations. Rigel Oliveri, an associate dean for faculty research and development and associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law, found that discriminatory online housing ads are almost always posted by people seeking roommates, and are primarily based on familial status.

In a study published in the Indiana Law Review, Oliveri reviewed 10,000 advertisements from 10 major U.S. cities. Despite a huge number of housing placed daily on in cities across the country, Oliveri found relatively few instances of illegal housing discrimination. Of the 10,000 ads she reviewed, she found that only five percent were potentially problematic or illegal.

The Federal Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing advertisements from expressing preferences based on race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status. Even ads that mention no preference but give biographical information about the advertiser that includes race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status may violate the federal law.

"Although ads that discriminate based on race, religion, and ethnicity are perhaps the most jarring, they are extremely rare," Oliveri said. "The overwhelming majority of ads that violate the Federal Housing Act discriminate on the basis of familial status, which is whether or not a potential tenant or roommate has children. Moreover, the vast majority of those who post discriminatory on-line advertisements for housing are placed by people seeking roommates. Ninety-one percent of the 534 problematic ads we found were posted by private parties. Only nine percent of the ads were placed by landlords looking for tenants."

Oliveri thinks people in shared housing situations who are advertising for roommates should be exempt from FHA laws. She argues that preventing roommate-seekers from advertising about themselves or expressing such preferences for their desired roommate would disproportionately affect minority group members who want to differentiate themselves from the majority or who seek a roommate who is a member of a minority group.

Despite finding relatively few discriminatory ads for rental housing on Craigslist, Oliveri still believes online housing discrimination is a problem in terms of absolute numbers. Currently, website operators are not legally obligated to monitor and remove discriminatory ads. Oliveri recommends that lawmakers place the burden on website operators to delete discriminatory ads. She also hopes for increased awareness of about the issue.

"This review of housing ads clearly demonstrates that there is a continued ignorance of and resistance to the fair housing law with respect to familial status," Oliveri said.

"Therefore, housing advocates should focus their attention on both raising awareness of familial status discrimination and changing public attitudes about it."

Explore further: 3 Qs: Economist makes the case for new quasi-experiments as a way of studying environmental issues

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study: Craigslist revenue to climb 23 pct to $100M

Jun 10, 2009

(AP) -- Craigslist, one of the Internet's top sites for classified ads, is thriving while newspapers and other marketing-driven media are reeling from huge revenue losses, according to a report to be released Wednesday.

Study: Names can cause discrimination

May 24, 2006

U.S. researchers say they've discovered anyone with a name that even sounds African-American faces discrimination in the pursuit of rental housing.

Recommended for you

Which foods may cost you more due to Calif. drought

Apr 17, 2014

With California experiencing one of its worst droughts on record, grocery shoppers across the country can expect to see a short supply of certain fruits and vegetables in stores, and to pay higher prices ...

Performance measures for CEOs vary greatly, study finds

Apr 16, 2014

As companies file their annual proxy statements with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this spring, a new study by Rice University and Cornell University shows just how S&P 500 companies have ...

Investment helps keep transport up to speed

Apr 16, 2014

Greater investment in education and training for employees will be required to meet the future needs of the transport and logistics industry, according to recent reports by Monash University researchers.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Clippers and coiners in 16th-century England

In 2017 a new £1 coin will appear in our pockets with a design extremely difficult to forge. In the mid-16th century, Elizabeth I's government came up with a series of measures to deter "divers evil persons" ...

Growing app industry has developers racing to keep up

Smartphone application developers say they are challenged by the glut of apps as well as the need to update their software to keep up with evolving phone technology, making creative pricing strategies essential to finding ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.