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What happens to racist landlords after someone files a Fair Housing complaint against them? I know it’s the question on everyone’s mind.

Well at least it was on my mind, after writing this week’s column about the Fair Housing Act, and Craigslist housing advertisements. We all know some people file complaints about Fair Housing discrimination. But then what? Immediate lawsuits? Fines? Stern talking tos?

All of the above, as it turns out—-and sometimes, none of the above.

Earlier this week, I talked to Don Kahl, head of The Equal Rights Center, a DC-based nonprofit with a national focus.

Kahl says any number of things can happen after a claim is filed. Here are few:

  • Fake renters test out a discrimination claim: Let’s say, for example, an allegation of racial discrimination against blacks has been reported:”An African-American tester will be sent to the location and ask about rental availability, and they will record what they were told in that contact with the landlord. In close proximity to that, a white tester matched in all other aspects—-relative income, credit scores—-goes in and performs the same contact…” And then the behavior of the landlord and the treatment of both applications will be reviewed.

  • An unpleasant phone call is made: “Sometimes merely calling a landlord or writing a letter, identifying the behavior by the sales agent or the rental agent would be all that it would take.” The landlord may conduct a meeting with sales staff and tell them to, you know, stop being racists. And that’s that.
  • Or a very unpleasant meeting is scheduled: Same deal as above—-but with face-to-face interaction. 
  • Advocates go to the boss man. Fair Housing advocates reach out to superiors within the ownership chain or sales team of the building. 
  • An administrative complaint is brought to the DC Office of Human Rights, or the comparable office in each local jurisdiction: A few years back, the Equal Rights Center tested roughly 100 landlords to see how they were treating Section 8 voucher holders. There was a 65 percent rate of discrimination. Afterward, complaints were filed in the DC Office of Human Rights, and “we worked through those, and were able—in every case to resolve those complaints with landlords in such a way that they agreed not to discriminate, and we set up a viable process to ensure that they weren’t.
  • A civil lawsuit is filed. 

Image by Shioshvill, Flickr Creative Commons