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Circuit Split on Online Housing Ads
April 7, 2008 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Last month, Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals: you cannot sue Craigslist for housing ads that violate the Fair Housing Act. Full decision (PDF); summary and analysis. This week, Ninth Circuit: you can sue Roommate.com for housing ads that violate the Fair Housing Act. Full decision (PDF); summary and analysis. The difference? Roommate.com facilitates the violations with its insidious check-boxes. It all hinges on how the courts interpret a section of the Communications Decency Act, a question that the Supreme Court may have to settle.
posted by goatdog (17 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
The other difference is that one is that one case is in the 7th Cir. and one in the 9th Cir. The 9th Circuit is notoriously plaintiff-friendly, particularly in civil rights cases.
posted by valkyryn at 5:34 PM on April 7, 2008


Makes sense to me. Craigslist is basically providing a bulletin board that people can post ads on. Don't like the ad? You can't blame the bulletin board. It's another story when roommate.com is actively building the ads and helping users discriminate among them.
posted by mullingitover at 5:52 PM on April 7, 2008


The Craigslist lawsuit was pretty lulzy. Surely progressivism is greatly served by making sure no one writes that a place is across the street from St. X's Church, that a small apartment wouldn't be good for kids, or that there's no wheelchair ramp.

Meanwhile, undesirable tenants will surely find out that the apartment is no longer available.

An interesting thing I looked up once is the "familial status" one. As far as I found, it means you can't ban children unless you're a retirement community rather than anything about being a family, and in fact you seem to be allowed to ban people for not having children.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 5:52 PM on April 7, 2008


Can someone confirm that, for example, it's illegal for a woman to advertise that she's looking for a female roommate? Or at least illegal to facilitate such a search? 'Cause that's what I'm getting from the analysis.
posted by Justinian at 6:01 PM on April 7, 2008


I thought that gender was the only permitted discrimination in shared housing ads. But IANAL, and don't have cites.
posted by rtha at 6:06 PM on April 7, 2008


As a recent user of both the sites, it did strike me as a little weird that roommates.com allows people to, essentially, say "gays not welcome". On the plus side, it provided a quick filter for screening out homophobic roommates.
posted by shazzam at 6:20 PM on April 7, 2008


If there really is a disagreement, the smart money bets against the Ninth Circuit. The Ninth Circuit has the dubious distinction of being more consistently overridden by SCOTUS than any other.
posted by Class Goat at 7:34 PM on April 7, 2008


Justinian - I always understood it to be that you can discriminate as much as you want if you're renting out a space in the property you live in, but discrimination is illegal for places like apartment buildings or houses where the owner doesn't live. Someone who knows more may correct me on this.
posted by fermezporte at 8:13 PM on April 7, 2008


This will only encourage my incredibly lazy (read: nonexistent) web design skills.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:24 PM on April 7, 2008


rtha, lots of websites (including Craigslist) say there's an exception for shared housing as long as it shares a bathroom, and they're probably right, but I haven't been able to find a cite either.

fermezporte, as long as the owner lives in the building and the property doesn't include more than three other units, he/she is exempt from a lot of this. It's called the "Mrs. Murphy exception."
posted by goatdog at 8:29 PM on April 7, 2008


As a recent user of both the sites, it did strike me as a little weird that roommates.com allows people to, essentially, say "gays not welcome". On the plus side, it provided a quick filter for screening out homophobic roommates.

That's why I'm amazed this is even an issue, really. If you hate any category I belong to and don't want to room with anyone who belongs to any of those categories, then I don't want to room with you either. What's the point of ensuring that gay people can live with homophobes, or latinos with racists, or anyone who suffers bigotry with the corresponding bigot? Is there really a black guy in Louisiana just hoping against hope that he can room with David Duke? If we're talking about renting out entire apartments, sure, you don't get to discriminate, but if it's a roomie you're looking for, doesn't it benefit discriminatees to know that they're facing rooming with a bigot beore they answer the ad?
posted by middleclasstool at 8:29 PM on April 7, 2008 [1 favorite]


And of course they can just discriminate in person if they're not allowed to do it in the ad.
posted by smackfu at 8:50 PM on April 7, 2008


That's why I'm amazed this is even an issue, really. If you hate any category I belong to and don't want to room with anyone who belongs to any of those categories, then I don't want to room with you either. What's the point of ensuring that gay people can live with homophobes, or latinos with racists, or anyone who suffers bigotry with the corresponding bigot? Is there really a black guy in Louisiana just hoping against hope that he can room with David Duke? If we're talking about renting out entire apartments, sure, you don't get to discriminate, but if it's a roomie you're looking for, doesn't it benefit discriminatees to know that they're facing rooming with a bigot beore they answer the ad?

It's 2008. America has changed.
Honesty has nothing to do with freedom.
The sad part is we're losing the freedom to be honest.
In oh so many ways.
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 10:45 PM on April 7, 2008


> doesn't it benefit discriminatees to know that they're facing rooming with a bigot beore they answer the ad?

My thought also. The FHA makes sense in the context of apartments or home sales, but I think there almost ought to be some sort of 'truth in advertising' requirement for roommates. I'd much rather know that the other person is sexist/racist/homophobic and just steer clear than force them to hide it, and potentially get into a very bad living situation. That doesn't seem like it would benefit anybody.

From what I've read about the 9th Circuit's decision, it's a lot more complicated than this -- the core issue was where the CDA stops applying and the FHA starts -- but I question whether the best ends are really being served if bigots aren't allowed to essentially red-flag themselves for the benefit of others.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:37 PM on April 7, 2008


Is there some reason why you guys think a straight dude/woman checking the box that they prefer another straight dude/woman is more offensive than a straight woman checking the box that they don't want a male roommate? One assumes that the issue is the same in both cases.
posted by Justinian at 11:50 PM on April 7, 2008


fermezporte, as long as the owner lives in the building and the property doesn't include more than three other units, he/she is exempt from a lot of this. It's called the "Mrs. Murphy exception."

That depends on the state, actually. In some states you can only discriminate against children if you have 2 or fewer units and one is landlord-occupied. And you can't claim lack of lead paint abatement as a reason not to rent to families with kids.
posted by miss tea at 4:23 AM on April 8, 2008



Ars Technica had a really good article and summary on the craigslist case and the issues.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:27 AM on April 8, 2008


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