2015 Fair Housing Testing

City files 23 charges against property owners for alleged violations of rental housing discrimination

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) has filed 23 director’s charges of illegal discrimination against 23 different property owners after a new round of fair housing testing showed evidence of housing discrimination.

The testing revealed that prospective renters experienced different treatment from Seattle landlords across all three categories that were tested: familial status, disability, and use of a federal Section 8 voucher.

To address housing discrimination citywide, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) will reach out to landlords and renters, including working with community partners to hold workshops for both landlords and the public.

Testing discovered evidence of different treatment

SOCR conducted a total of 97 tests, focusing on three different groups protected under fair housing laws.

Test findings revealed:

  • Familial status (32 tests): 2 charges / 31% of all tests showed evidence of different treatment.
  • Disability (33 tests): 6 charges / 64% of all tests showed evidence of different treatment.
  • Section 8 voucher (32 tests): 13 charges / 63% of all tests showed evidence of different treatment.

SOCR also filed 2 additional charges (national origin and marital status) based on information that emerged from two of the tests.

SOCR contracted with the Northwest Fair Housing Alliance in Spokane to coordinate the testing, which was conducted by telephone and e-mail. To test for hearing disability, testers used Washington State’s free Telecommunication Relay Service. 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 familial status, some landlords provided less information about rental units to testers who said they had children then they did to testers who indicated they did not have children. One manager advertised for “professional tenants only.” Testers found that some landlords’ occupancy standards (the number of people legally allowed to occupy units of specific sizes) were too restrictive: for example, requiring a maximum of two people for a 2-bedroom apartment.

In the disability tests, some landlords refused to allow a service animal, refused to waive pet fees, or hung up repeatedly when they received a call from the Washington State relay service.

Some landlords refused to respond to applicants who mentioned using a Section 8 voucher or simply turned away Section 8 applicants. Other landlords refused to consider adjusting their leasing policies to consider Section 8 applicants.

“We have filed 23 charges 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.”

Fair Housing Testing (FAQ)

May 2, 2016 - City files 23 charges against property owners for alleged violations of rental housing discrimination (press release)

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The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) works to advance civil rights and end barriers to equity. We enforce laws against illegal discrimination in employment, housing, public places, and contracting within Seattle.