Study: Roommate-Seekers Post Most Online Discriminatory Ads

Study: Roommate-Seekers Post Most Online Discriminatory Ads



Discriminatory online housing ads are almost always posted by people seeking roommates, and are primarily based on familial status, according to a recent study by Rigel Oliveri, an associate dean for faculty research and development and associate professor of law at the University of Missouri School of Law.

In the study published in the Indiana Law Review, Oliveri reviewed 10,000 housing advertisements from 10 major U.S. cities. Despite a huge number of housing ads placed daily on Craigslist 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 5 percent were potentially problematic or illegal.

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing advertisements from expressing preferences based on race, ethnicity, religion, familial status, and other characteristics. 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, according to Oliveri.

“Although ads that discriminate based on race, religion, and ethnicity are perhaps the most jarring, they are extremely rare,” Oliveri said in a statement. “The overwhelming majority of ads that violate the Fair 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 online 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 9 percent of the ads were placed by landlords looking for tenants.”

Oliveri believes that people in shared housing situations who are advertising for roommates should be exempt from fair housing laws. She argues that preventing roommate-seekers from advertising biographical information 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’s 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, Web site operators are not legally obligated to monitor and remove discriminatory ads. Oliveri recommends that lawmakers place the burden on Web site 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 noted. “Therefore, housing advocates should focus their attention on both raising awareness of familial status discrimination and changing public attitudes about it.”

Source: Missouri School of Law