Fair Housing vs. Unfair Housing

Do you know the difference?

Knowing the difference between fair housing and unfair housing isn't as obvious as you might think. This blog aims to present a variety of important and interesting fair housing issues.

If you're an apartment professional, avoid costly mistakes by reading the stories of others who — even with good intentions — learned compliance lessons the hard way. (For the easy way, click here.)

If you live in an apartment, get familiar with your rights when it comes to housing discrimination, as well as your options for seeking justice.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

How to Police Online Advertising

When President Johnson signed the Fair Housing Act (FHA) into law in 1968, the government couldn't imagine that just one generation later, it would be so easy and inexpensive for people to place housing advertisements that would reach a national audience. Thanks to the Internet, thousands of new ads appear on Web sites each day. Not surprisingly, this leads to several thousand new instances of housing discrimination each year.

Given that the FHA bars discrimination in advertising, how should discriminatory online advertising best be policed? The traditional route, in which the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and fair housing agencies pursue individual offenders, seems like an unrealistic expenditure of time and resources, one which would require a much larger budget and staff than what's currently in place.

An alternative is to make the owners and operators of the Web sites that collect and publish advertisements responsible for identifying and rejecting ads that appear to violate the FHA, and liable for posting any that do.

The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) yesterday called on Congress to update the law for the 21st century. Newspapers have been held liable under the FHA for publishing discriminatory housing advertisements, but a loophole in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has held Internet advertising providers to a different standard, helping them avoid liability. The NFHA recommends closing this loophole by treating all ad providers the same.

The NFHA issued its call on the heels of a lawsuit filed last month against American Classifieds, LLC, the nation's largest classified advertisement publisher, for publishing ads in 17 states saying that children aren't allowed, an apparent violation of the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination.

To read the NFHA's complete report ("FOR RENT: NO KIDS! How Internet Advertising Requirements Perpetuate Discrimination") on this interesting and timely issue, click here.

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