The Use of Preferred Employer Programs in Rental Housing Under the Seattle Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08)

Guidance to address preferred employer programs in rental housing

SOCR has released guidance on how it will address preferred employer programs in rental housing. In 2015, both media and community members reported that property management companies were offering discounts on deposits and other move-in fees to rental applicants who worked for particular employers. These discounts were reportedly not offered to other applicants.

SOCR has concluded that in some instances, preferred employer programs that provide discounts or other terms and conditions in rental housing to certain groups over others may constitute discrimination under Seattle's Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08).

"We will look at complaints about preferred employer programs on a case by case basis," said Patricia Lally, SOCR Director. "Some programs may be legal; others may cross the line and violate our fair housing law."

To determine the legality of a specific preferred employer program, SOCR will conduct a disparate impact analysis outlined by HUD's Disparate Impact Rule. The rule covers practices that may adversely impact a group of people who are covered under the law, even if the practice itself appears neutral on its face. SOCR's Guidance also describes how the Office would conduct an investigation of a disparate impact complaint.

Data has shown workforce gaps exist in the tech sector, for example, based on gender and race, which negatively impact groups who are currently underrepresented in the tech workforce. Given Seattle's high rents and increasing unaffordability, incentives and opportunities for certain groups over others may perpetuate existing racial, gender and other social inequities.

Renters who feel they may have been impacted by a preferred employer program in rental housing should contact the Seattle Office for Civil Rights at 206-684-4500, or submit information online.


The Use of Preferred Employer Programs in Rental Housing Under the Seattle Open Housing Ordinance (SMC 14.08)