Fair Housing Testing Leads to Discrimination Charges Against 23 Seattle Landlords

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) recently filed charges against 23 property owners after its latest round of fair housing testing allegedly showed that prospective renters experienced different treatment from Seattle landlords based on familial status, disability, and use of a federal Section 8 voucher.

“Housing discrimination is real in Seattle—not something that just happens in other places,” Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement. “These test results tell us that we still have work to do to achieve fair housing in Seattle.”

The testing, which was conducted by telephone and email, used paired testers posing as prospects to measure differences in the services they received from leasing agents, as well as information about vacancies, rental rates, and other conditions. The matched pairs of testers have similar rental profiles in every respect except for the protected class being tested—that is, family status, disability, and use of a Section 8 voucher. To test for hearing disability, testers used Washington state’s free Telecommunication Relay Service. Key findings:

Familial status: About a third of the tests showed evidence of different treatment based on familial status, resulting in two charges. In some cases, testers who said they had children received less information about rental units than testers who indicated they didn’t have children. Testing also found that occupancy standards (the number of people legally allowed to occupy units of specific sizes) were too restrictive: for example, requiring a maximum of two people for a two-bedroom apartment. One manager advertised for “professional tenants only.”

Disability: Two-thirds of the tests showed evidence of different treatment based on disability, resulting in six charges. Some landlords refused to allow a service animal, refused to waive pet fees, or hung up repeatedly when they received a call from the state relay service.

Section 8 voucher: Two-thirds of the tests showed evidence of different treatment, resulting in 13 charges. Some landlords refused to respond to applicants who mentioned using a Section 8 voucher or simply turned away Section 8 applicants. Others refused to consider adjusting their leasing policies to consider Section 8 applicants.

SOCR also filed two additional charges (national origin and marital status) based on information that emerged from two of the tests.

“We have filed 23 charges where the differences in treatment were undeniable,” said Patricia Lally, Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. “These test results are not isolated incidents—they demonstrate patterns of behavior that have profound impacts on people’s lives.”