Saturday 13 March 2010

Unintended consequences: discriminatory housing edition

It's illegal in the US to advertise that your house is to rent only to particular groups: a "Canadians-only (they're so tidy!)" ad would be unlawful. However, such ads flourish on Craigslist. Rigel Oliveri's checked through the ads and finds that the vast majority of ads noting a discriminatory preference are from folks looking for roommates (rather than evil racist landlords); that the vast majority of those ads are from folks who didn't want roommates with children; and, that the majority of ads expressing a discriminatory race, ethnicity, or religious preference are from members of minorities looking for roommates of the same background.

If ads on Craigslist are representative of the kinds of preferences that are forbidden in other advertising venues, we have a problem. Where the intended effect of the Fair Housing Act is to reduce racial discrimination and protect minorities, the actual effect is to keep members of minority groups preferring to have same-group roommates from advertising same - and to make it harder for non-family friendly places to advertise as such - increasing search costs in housing for everyone involved.

HT: Max Stearns


  1. Actually it's not illegal to specify your preferences about sex if you are looking for a room mate. Just if you are a landlord

  2. @dlr: The article claims otherwise, says is common misconception that roomies get an exemption:

    "While amending the CDA will solve the problem of discriminatory ads by incentivizing websites to screen them out, we should also make use of the information we have learned from looking at the ads. For example, it appears that there is a problem with applying the Fair Housing Act to roommates. The Fair Housing contains an exemption for small landlords who live in the same building as their tenants, designed to safeguard the privacy and associational rights of property owners who live in close proximity to their tenants. The exemption, however, does not cover co-lessees who seek to live together as roommates. Moreover, the exemption does not include § 3604(c), so an exempt landlord is still prohibited from advertising discriminatory preferences. The sheer number of potentially discriminatory roommate ads out there suggests that many roommate-seekers are unaware that the law applies to them and their advertisements (which is understandable given the complexity of the law)."