Survey Says That Some Landlords Discriminate

Submitted by News Desk on Tue, 07/15/2008 - 10:00pm

 The Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity (ECHO) recently revealed the results of their annual fair housing audit, and over one-quarter of properties tested in San Leandro showed a racial bias.

ECHO tests landlords and real estate agents around the Bay Area to determine if they treat renters differently because of gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, national origin, and several other factors.

“The ECHO program is nonprofit and I think our practices are fairly standard to other housing organizations around the county,” said Angie Watson-Hajjem, the group’s fair housing specialist.

This year’s test involved married women of the same age and educational background looking for a place for themselves and their husbands. The testers are trained to ask only necessary questions and volunteer information only when asked directly by the landlords. The only difference in the profiles was race.

In this year’s study – which was partially funded by the city of San Leandro – 27 percent of the San Leandro cases showed that the minority tester was treated less favorably than the white woman.

ECHO chose over 100 properties around the Bay Area to evaluate by searching rental ads in newspapers or on web sites like Craigslist.

San Leandro’s 27 percent rate of discrimination placed the city around the middle of the pack of cities tested.

Pleasanton, Livermore, and Union City all showed 30 percent differential treatment, Hayward showed 20 percent differential treatment, and Cupertino showed the lowest rate of discrimination at 17 percent.

Watson-Hajjem said that they found no cases of outright refusal to rent, but a finding of discrimination is based on things like a landlord quoting a higher price to the minority or discouraging a renter by telling them something like they wouldn’t fit in in the neighborhood.

“We don’t get a lot of doors slammed in our face. It is more sophisticated than that,” said Watson-Hajjem. “But there is a difference in treatment. People say things like ‘come back in a month,’ or they send thank you notes and emails to the white renter and not the minority.”

Watson-Hajjem said that all the landlords who were surveyed got a letter saying that they had been part of a test and telling them their results.

“If they are found to have had a preference, they are strongly encouraged to come to us and get training, which is free,” said Watson-Hajjem.

She added that if the property owners don’t attend ECHO’s class, the organization will continue to follow-up with them, and in some cases report them to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.