April 29, 2013

Drinker Biddle Partners With Equal Rights Center in Housing Rights Investigation

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP, through its Barbara McDowell High Impact Pro Bono Initiative, partnered with the Equal Rights Center, a national non-profit civil rights organization, to release a testing-based report revealing that Latinos seeking rental housing across the Commonwealth of Virginia experienced at least one form of adverse treatment as compared to their white counterparts in 55 percent of inquiries. The report, Precaución: Obstacles for Latinos in the Virginia Rental Housing Market, is based on a series of 106 tests. 

The ERC conducted 106 matched-pair, in-person civil rights tests of rental properties in regions throughout the Commonwealth, including: the City of Fairfax, the City of Richmond, Henrico County, Loudoun County, Prince William County and Manassas, Roanoke County, Northwest Virginia (covering Augusta, Culpeper, Frederick, and Rockingham Counties), and Virginia Beach.  In 55 percent of tests, the Latino tester received adverse, differential treatment as compared to the white tester, in at least one respect, including:

  • Being quoted higher rents or higher fees for the same rental unit than white testers;
  • Not being offered incentives or “specials” that were offered to white testers seeking the same housing;
  • Being offered fewer available units or later availability dates than those offered to white testers; and
  • Being told about additional application requirements, such as credit checks or providing a social security card, which were not told to white testers.

In recent years the ERC has received a growing number of complaints of hostility toward immigrant communities, particularly Latino communities.  As a result, the ERC initiated an investigation that included fair housing testing in several locations across the Commonwealth with a growing Latino population in order to examine whether Latinos and their white counterparts are treated differently when seeking the same rental housing.

“Differential treatment based on national origin or perceived national origin is unlawful, yet this testing reveals that Latinos are often subject to unfair and sometimes illegal housing practices.  While landlords may not actually say: ‘No Latinos,’ subtle forms of discrimination are another way of denying or discouraging individuals in their ability to live where they choose,” said Don Kahl, Executive Director of the Equal Rights Center. “While we are beginning to see movement toward a consensus around immigration reform, hostility towards immigrants at the local level, unfortunately, continues to result in unfair treatment for many—irrespective of their immigrant status.”

“Hostility towards immigrants hurts all of us, not just the groups being targeted,” said Maureen Donahue Hardwick, Regional Partner in Charge of Drinker Biddle’s Washington, DC office and one of the firm’s pro bono coordinators.  “It is important that rental housing providers, Latinos, and the community as a whole understand the obstacles facing Latinos in the rental housing market and work together to eliminate those obstacles.”

In addition to the test findings, the report also includes several recommendations to address these findings.  Recommendations include: (1) legislators should ensure that all immigration-related bills encourage fair housing and comply with federal civil rights laws; (2) housing providers should train staff and develop policies and practices that detail application requirements and fees to ensure uniformity in the information provided to applicants; and (3) tenants and prospective tenants should receive education and self-advocacy resources about their fair housing rights and what to do when these rights are violated.

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