23 Seattle landlords charged in discrimination probe

Seattle residents have been affected by rising rents. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)
A city probe found violations of fair housing laws. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

As hard as it might be to rent in Seattle, families with children, people with disabilities and people with federal housing assistance have it harder, a city probe found.

A city of Seattle investigation has resulted in 23 director’s charges against landlords for violations of fair housing laws, the city announced this week.

The Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) conducted 97 tests at rental properties throughout the city in 2015.

The three classes tested were families with children, people with disabilities and those who received Section 8 vouchers. Twenty-one violations were found in the three categories tested and two property owners face charges for discriminating against renters because of national origin and marital status.

While 23 properties showed clear evidence of violations for fair housing laws, the probe found families applying for rent were treated differently in nearly one out of three tests. The probe found people with disabilities or and families on received federal assistance were treated differently in about two out of three tests.

According to the Office for Civil Rights’ press release described how the tests were conducted:

For familial status, some landlords provided less information about rental units to testers who said they had children then they did to testers who indicated they did not have children. One manager advertised for “professional tenants only.” Testers found that some landlords’ occupancy standards (the number of people legally allowed to occupy units of specific sizes) were too restrictive: for example, requiring a maximum of two people for a 2-bedroom apartment.

In the disability tests, some landlords refused to allow a service animal, refused to waive pet fees, or hung up repeatedly when they received a call from the Washington State relay service.

Some landlords refused to respond to applicants who mentioned using a Section 8 voucher or simply turned away Section 8 applicants. Other landlords refused to consider adjusting their leasing policies to consider Section 8 applicants.

The charges are not criminal and the investigation, penalties or settlements are handled through Seattle’s Office for Civil Rights.

Last year, 13 property owners faced charges because of discrimination based on race, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity. While there was evidence of different treatment in more than half the test, charges were filed only in cases where discrimination was undeniable, according to last year’s press release.

Twelve of those property owners charged last year reached a settlement with the city, Office for Civil Rights spokesman Elliott Bronstein said.

Settlements included reimbursing the city for the costs of testing, training employees on fair housing laws, posting notices in their properties to inform residents of their rights and paying $1,000 each towards a public campaign on fair housing.