The Seattle Office for Civil Rights has filed director’s charges of illegal discrimination against 13 property owners after on-site fair housing testing show evidence of housing discrimination.

Twelve of the property owners have agreed to settle the charges, which the City of Seattle filed with the WA State Human Rights Commission. 

Property managers have agreed to reimburse Seattle for the costs of testing, require their employees to attend fair housing training, provide funding for a fair housing campaign and post fair housing notices in their properties to inform residents of their rights.

“Unfortunately, housing discrimination is not a thing of the past, but a reality for too many people in Seattle,” said Seattle Mayor Ed Murray.  “These test results tell us that we still have work to do to share information with landlords on their responsibilities and with tenants, so they understand their rights.

In addition to resulting in 13 charges, the testing conducted revealed that prospective renters experienced different treatment from landlords or half the time across all four tested categories:  race, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) conducted a total of 124 tests focusing on four different groups protected under fair housing laws.  Test findings revealed: 

  • Race (42 tests) – 64% showed evidence of different treatment 
  • National Origin (43 tests) – 67% showed evidence of different treatment 
  • Sexual Orientation (30 tests) – 63% showed evidence of different treatment 
  • Gender Identity (9 tests) – 67% showed evidence of different treatment 

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 example, African American and Latino testers were told about criminal background and credit history checks more frequently than the white testers.  They were also asked more often about their spouses’ employment history (particularly with Latino testers).  They were shown and told about fewer amenities, provided fewer applications and brochures and were shown fewer vacant units.  In some cases, the prices quoted were higher for the same unit.

Testers for sexual orientation and gender identity were shown fewer amenities, provided fewer applications and brochures and were shown fewer vacant units.  In some cases, the prices quoted were higher for the same unit.

“We have filed charges in 13 cases 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.

SOCR sent letters to all tested property owners informing them of their individual test results.  SOCR has offered to meet with managers whose test results showed some evidence of discrimination to evaluate their rental process and to provide fair housing resources to help them to improve their policies and procedures. 

How Fair Housing Testing Works

In most cases, the Fair Housing Center used paired testers prosing as prospective renters to measure differences in the services they received from leasing agents, as well as information about vacancies, rental rates and other conditions.

The matched pairs of testers had similar rental profiles in every aspect except for their race or disability.  Test sites were selected at random from geographic areas of the city and were conducted between January and June of last year.  The City budget includes $50,000 to conduct testing on an annual basis. 

Reprinted with permission of UPDATE, the official publication of the Rental Housing Association of Washington.