Investigation In Los Angeles Reveals Widespread Use of Discriminatory Statements on Rental Websites

NEWS RELEASE
Southern California Housing Rights Center
Los Angeles, CA 
For Immediate Release
Contact: Gary Rhoades  213/387-8400  (September 26, 2002) -- The Southern California Housing Rights Center (“HRC”) has obtained its second Consent Decree in litigation filed against rental websites. HRC also announced the results of an investigation into the advertising practices of the seven major rental websites in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. After reviewing residential rental listings published on the internet, HRC concluded that each of the seven websites had published numerous statements that demonstrated preference or discrimination based on the classes protected by federal or California law.

In the midst of the investigation, HRC has already obtained out-of-court settlements with three websites and federal Consent Decrees and Orders with monetary relief against two more websites. In its most recent case, HRC v. Apartment Hunters, et al, #02-CV-5310 (C.D. Cal. Sept. 2002), HRC alleged that the defendants published statements such as “no children,” “will accept a married couple 40 years and older,” near synagogue,” “adult building,” and “professional preferred” on their website, and that these statements discriminate on the basis of familial status, religion, marital status, source of income and age in violation of federal and/or California fair housing laws. The complaint also alleged that defendants republished these statements in newspaper, replacing the landlords’ contact information with defendants’ website address to get readers to pay them for the contact information. 

Judge Margaret Morrow signed an Order on September 6, 2002 under which Apartment Hunters and its owners shall comply with the following terms for two years: 1) provide HRC with a no-cost membership to its website for monitoring and testing purposes; 2)prohibit the posting of discriminatory statements (using speciality software and spot-checking); 3) Email fair housing information to its customers; 4) Post a fair housing footer on each page of its website with text on fair housing and HRC contact information; 5) Include Equal Housing Opportunity symbol in all advertising; 6) Display a fair housing banner (to be designed by HRC) at the top of each page during the months of April 2003 and April 2004 (National Fair Housing Month); 7) Attendance by owners and employees at an HRC fair housing training. HRC attorney Gary Rhoades stated that these terms reached in HRC v. Apartment Hunters are similar to those reached in the other five resolutions 

Four of the five websites involved in the resolved cases each provide over 10,000 listings on a daily basis in the Los Angeles, Ventura and Orange Counties. The fifth website, a national rental website, contains hundreds of thousands of listings. Therefore, under the five Consent Decrees and settlement agreements obtained by HRC, thousands of landlords and tenants will see information about fair housing rights as well as HRC’s contact information. The cases have also introduced software and new screening methods to the internet that will prevent landlord from posting such statements. Also, pop-up boxes now appear in some of the websites whenever a landlord attempts to post a listing.

HRC, which obtained $16,500 in monetary relief under the two website Consent Decrees, embarked on several projects in 2002 to fight discriminatory advertising, including the following:

  • Formation of a Task Force on Housing Discrimination, which includes representatives from the media, the housing industry, HUD, DFEH, and fair housing councils.
  • Mailing of Advertising Protocol and Fair Housing Requirements to over 50 advertising sources in the Los Angeles area.
  • The filing of two cases in court against landlords for discriminatory advertising and three more with enforcement agencies.
  • Investigation of other rental websites listing Los Angeles properties.

The law firm of Howrey Simon Arnold and White co-counseled with HRC in HRC v. Apartment Hunters.