A national study released today confirms what many LGBT people have undoubtedly suspected: Same-sex couples experience discrimination in the rental housing market, even when business is conducted online.
In the first national study dealing with such discrimination in rental housing advertised on the Internet, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that same-sex couples received significantly fewer responses to emails about advertised units than heterosexual couples did. Gay male couples experienced more discrimination than lesbian couples, and treatment of same-sex couples overall was, unexpectedly, somewhat worse in states that ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The study is based on nearly 7,000 test emails that were sent to housing providers in 50 metropolitan areas across the U.S., inquiring about the availability of an apartment advertised online, between June and October of 2011. For each unit advertised, researchers sent two emails, one from a same-sex couple and the other from a heterosexual couple, but otherwise identical. "Unfavorable treatment was measured by whether the tester was told the unit was available, asked to contact the landlord, invited to the see the apartment, or received any response at all," noted a HUD press release.
"As this study shows, we need to continue our efforts to ensure that everyone is treated the same when it comes to finding a home to call their own, regardless of their sexual orientation," HUD secretary Shaun Donovan said in the release. The U.S. Fair Housing Act does not address discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but HUD guidance recently issued on interpretation of the act treats gender nonconformity or sex stereotyping as sex discrimination and instructs the department's staff to inform individuals filing complaints about state and local agencies that have LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws. The department has also issued a rule that requires HUD-funded and HUD-insured housing providers and Federal Housing Administration-approved lenders to provide equal access without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity, and marital status.
HUD conducted the study in collaboration with the University of Albany, State University of New York. Researchers' recommendations for further studies "include in-person testing, examination of legislative protections at the local jurisdictional level (rather than only at the state level), and tests for discrimination against transgender people to further examine difference in treatment between same-sex and heterosexual couples in states without legislative protections," according to the release.
Download the full study or the executive summary here.