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Report: Tri-Valley landlords discriminate

Submitted by News Desk on Sat, 08/02/2008 - 10:00pm
Source: 



A recent study of fair housing practices found that about 30 percent of landlords tested in the Tri-Valley and other parts of the East Bay treated prospective tenants differently depending on race.

The Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity, a 44-year-old East Bay nonprofit that specializes in fair housing, tested 111 properties in Alameda, San Mateo and Santa Clara counties — sending out one black and one white applicant to each, to see how they would be treated. Fifteen of the properties were in Hayward, and 10 each in Livermore and Pleasanton.

In 32 cases, there was evidence of differential treatment based on the rental applicant's race, study results showed. In 75 cases, there was no evidence of racial discrimination, and four tests were inconclusive.

Hayward, Livermore, and Pleasanton each had three cases of suspected discrimination, according to the study, which is done on a regular basis by ECHO.

"We didn't have anyone refuse to rent to a black tester. It wasn't in-your-face discrimination," said ECHO's fair housing specialist, Angie Watson-Hajjem. "We used to see that kind of stuff back in the '70s. Now, we don't see that type of overt discrimination."

In cases where preferential treatment of a white tester was suspected, differences were more subtle, she said.

In some instances, the white applicant received a callback or thank-you note from the landlord in the mail, but the minority tester didn't. In other cases, the landlord made encouraging comments to the white tester, stressing the positive aspects of the apartment or neighborhood, but did not do the same for the black tester.

Pairs of female testers, one white and one black, acted as the prospective tenants. With the exception of their race, the testers were similar in every way, including age, marital status, occupation and income level, Watson-Hajjem said.

The testers made their own appointments to view apartments, usually within a day or two of each other. After the minority tester secured an appointment, she informed the fair housing counselor, who would then call the white tester and ask her to schedule an appointment to view the same property. In all cases, the minority tester went first, Watson-Hajjem said.

After testers met with the property managers or landlords, they went to the ECHO office to fill out questionnaires and to be debriefed. Tester reports were then compared to determine whether differential treatment occurred.

ECHO has done this type of testing for decades in cities that contract for its services.

The most striking examples were ones in which black testers were quoted different fees, the study showed.

At one Hayward apartment house where differential treatment was suspected, the minority tester was charged $50 more for a security deposit. At another Hayward apartment, the minority tester was charged $10 more for a credit check.

At two apartments in Livermore, white applicants were told about move-in-specials while their black counterparts were not. At an apartment in Pleasanton, the white applicant was offered a rental application while the black applicant was not.

Landlords should take studies such as these seriously, said Steve Edrington, executive director of the landlords group, Rental Housing Association of Northern Alameda County.

"Generally, I don't see too many people trying to be outright discriminatory. I think the issue comes down to landlords making subjective choices as opposed to objective ones," Edrington said.

He said a good rule of thumb is for landlords to develop a consistent set of standards for prospective renters and apply them to everyone who walks through the door.

Jan Leasure of California Landlord Solutions agrees. Her group provides training for property owners who have been convicted of fair housing violations.

"Apply the same criteria, offer the same rental opportunities and try not to make presumptions about what type of rental will meet the applicant's needs," she said.

Watson-Hajjem said landlords and property managers who are found to be giving preferential treatment to some applicants are invited by ECHO to come for free training in fair housing laws.
about ECHO


ECHO provides counseling, mediation, investigation and education through its fair housing program. Free training is available for landlords, tenants, property owners and managers. Speakers are available to talk to groups or agencies about federal and state fair housing laws. ECHO provides fair housing services for Southern Alameda County and Redwood City; tenant/landlord counseling in Southern Alameda County; home equity conversion counseling in Berkeley, Fremont, Livermore, Oakland and Pleasanton; shared housing counseling in Livermore and Pleasanton; HUD mortgage default and delinquency and homeownership programs in southern Alameda County; rental assistance programs in Dublin, Fremont, Hayward, Livermore, Oakland, Pleasanton, San Leandro and unincorporated Alameda County; and rent/deposit grant programs for Alameda County.
ECHO offices are in Hayward, 510-581-9380; Livermore, 925-449-7340; Oakland, 510-836-4826; and Palo Alto, 650-327-1718 or 408-730-8491. Visit the Web site: echofairhousing.org

jbenca@cctimes.com