So I came across this article on ScienceDaily:
In a study published in the Indiana Law Review, Oliveri reviewed 10,000 housing advertisements from 10 major U.S. cities… Of the 10,000 ads she reviewed, she found that only five percent were potentially problematic or illegal.
The Federal Housing Act (FHA) prohibits housing advertisements from expressing preferences based on race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status. Even ads that mention no preference but give biographical information about the advertiser that includes race, ethnicity, religion, or familial status may violate the federal law.
… Oliveri said. “The overwhelming majority of ads that violate the Federal Housing Act discriminate on the basis of familial status, which is whether or not a potential tenant or roommate has children. Moreover, the vast majority of those who post discriminatory on-line advertisements for housing are placed by people seeking roommates…”
Oliveri thinks people in shared housing situations who are advertising for roommates should be exempt from FHA laws. She argues that preventing roommate-seekers from advertising biographical information about themselves or expressing such preferences for their desired roommate would disproportionately affect minority group members who want to differentiate themselves from the majority or who seek a roommate who is a member of a minority group.
What a ridiculous law. And what a ridiculously poorly worded article, especially since the title is “Online Housing Discrimination Primarily Done by Roommate-Seekers, Familial Status, Study Finds” and the fact that the lead researcher herself thinks it’s silly is imbedded several paragraphs down.
But seriously, who wrote this law? Having a roommate is like entering into a relationship: if you’re not compatible, it’s bound not to work out. If I’m a proud granola eating uber-feminist vegan, then maybe carnivorous Men’s Rights advocates should consider another arrangement. If I’m an outspoken atheist and my potential roommate is an evangelical young earth creationist (all sitcom potential aside), if I am outspoken enough about it to include it in my ad, I’m asking you to take that into consideration. If I don’t mention it, then it’s not a big deal. It’s no different than a profile on a dating website – you are simplifying your personality down to some quick and dirty facts in the hopes of attracting a compatible individual. It’s not discrimination: it’s saying “This is me. Can you deal with it?” Perhaps race/ethnicity/religion/marital status are irrelevant to that. Maybe not. Failing to be upfront about things that are important to your identity is only going to lead to pain and suffering in the end.
The marital status portion is even sillier. If I’m advertising for a roommate, that does not mean you and your family. Not you and your best friend and your cousin from out East. That means one person. If I’m saying explicitly in my ad: no kids, it means I don’t want to have to deal with kids. It’s my home, and although I respect your right to have children, that does not make them my problem unless I want them to be. People are allowed to say “No pets” for the same reason. If I’m allergic to pets or just really hate animals, I’m allowed to ask you not to bring them into my home. If I’m a student studying long hours and I absolutely need quiet, or I’m offering to share a small space that truly cannot accommodate more than two people – then I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say “no kids.”
Conversely, if someone listing an ad for a roommate, I think marital status is pertinent information. I would not feel comfortable renting a room in a house full of single men I did not know. I would feel much more safe, given a choice between the two, renting a room in the house of a married couple. These are, of course, broad brush strokes and subject to nuance, but I know the sort of lifestyle I have and would want to be living with people who had compatible lifestyles. If they have an 8 month old baby, that’s also pretty relevant information before I move in the door. In fact, if someone left this out of a roommate ad, I would instantly be wary and feel lied to. If you’re not being straight forward about who is living in the house, then what else are you hiding? “Oh, by the way, we have 6 kids” is worth noting up front just as much as “I’m a neat freak” or “I am a chain smoker” or “I have a tendency to crank Lady Gaga at 6 a.m. to pump me up every morning.”
Now, I don’t think that’s bigotry, but maybe someone could explain to me why I’m wrong?