Seattle Cracks Down on Rental Housing Discrimination

Fair housing authorities in Seattle recently filed discrimination complaints against 13 rental property owners after on-site fair housing testing uncovered evidence of housing discrimination. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) reported that 12 have agreed to settlements requiring them to reimburse the city for the costs of testing, provide employees with fair housing training, provide funding for a fair housing campaign, and post fair housing notices in their properties to inform residents of their rights.

“Unfortunately, housing discrimination is not a thing of the past, but a reality for too many people in Seattle,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a statement. “These test results tell us that we still have work to do to share information with landlords on their responsibilities and with tenants, so they understand their rights.”

Based on the results of 124 tests, SOCR reported that prospective renters experienced different treatment from Seattle landlords more than half the time based on four protected categories fair housing laws: race, national origin, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

According to SOCR, testers posed as prospective renters, so the different treatment they experienced depended on the information they received from landlords and the questions they were asked. For example, African-American and Latino testers were told about criminal background and credit history checks more frequently than the white testers. They also were asked more often about their spouses’ employment history (especially with Latino testers). They were shown and told about fewer amenities, provided fewer applications and brochures, and were shown fewer vacant units. In some cases, the prices quoted were higher for the same unit, SOCR said.

Testers for sexual orientation and gender identity were shown fewer amenities, provided fewer applications and brochures, and were shown fewer vacant units. In some cases, the prices quoted were higher for the same unit.

“We have filed charges in 13 cases 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.”

SOCR notified the property owners of their individual test results and offered to meet with managers whose test results showed some evidence of discrimination to evaluate their rental process and to provide fair housing resources to help them to improve their policies and procedures.

To address housing discrimination citywide, SOCR will launch a fair housing campaign to reach out to landlords and renters, including an ad campaign and a fair housing hotline. SOCR also will provide free training to property management staff on request, and schedule fair housing workshops for community organizations and the general public. For information about free classes and other educational materials sponsored by the Rental Housing Association of Washington, visit

Source: Seattle Office for Civil Rights