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Study Finds Discrimination against Same-Sex Couples in Rental Housing Market

A study by David Schwegman published in Housing Policy Debate, “Rental Market Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples: Evidence From a Pairwise-Matched Email Correspondence Test,” examines housing discrimination against same-sex couples. Same-sex male couples, especially non-white same-sex male couples, were less likely to receive a response to inquiries about rental units advertised on Craigslist.

Sexual orientation and gender identity are not protected classes under the Fair Housing Act of 1968 or under state housing laws in 28 states. In order to assess discrimination against same-sex couples seeking rental housing, Mr. Schwegman tested 6,490 randomly selected property owners in 94 cities who posted advertisements for rental units on Craigslist.org. Property owners were sent two test emails inquiring about their listing: one email signaled that the inquiring couple was same-sex and the other signaled the couple was heterosexual. Race and ethnicity were assigned randomly to the hypothetical couples.

Same-sex male couples were 4.6 percentage points less likely to receive an active response than heterosexual couples, while same-sex female couples were not treated differently than heterosexual couples. Black and Hispanic same-sex male couples were 5.6 and 5.2 percentage points less likely to receive a response from a property owner compared with their same-race heterosexual counterparts. White male couples were approximately 4 percentage points less likely to receive a response compared with white heterosexual couples.

State anti-discrimination laws correlated with less discrimination against same-sex black male couples, but not for other same-sex couples. Same-sex black male couples in areas with state housing protections were 2.7 percentage points more likely to receive a response than same-sex black male couples in areas without state housing protections.

Same-sex black male couples in jurisdictions with local housing protections, however, were 2.6 percentage points less likely to receive a response than same-sex black male couples in jurisdictions without such protections. Mr. Schwegman suggests this result could reflect that localities with high levels of discrimination against same-sex couples and other minorities adopt local anti-discrimination ordinances. Regardless, the findings suggest that the local non-discrimination ordinances do not have an impact on such discrimination. 

To measure subtler forms of discrimination, Mr. Schwegman examined the language of property owners’ responses to apartment-seekers. Property owners did not respond differentially to same-sex white or Hispanic couples compared to heterosexual couples. When responding to same-sex black couples, however, property owners were 2.4 percentage points less likely to describe the unit or the unit’s neighborhood positively or to use polite language compared with responses to heterosexual black couples. Black couples, regardless of sexual orientation, were almost 30 percentage points more likely to be asked about their eviction histories than white couples.

The results of the study suggest that antidiscrimination laws should be adopted at the state level to ensure marginalized groups are not discriminated against. Mr. Schwegman argues that the ineffectiveness of local laws may come from the fact that property owners are unconcerned with the consequences of discriminating against same-sex couples if their state does not prohibit this behavior or if there is insufficient enforcement. Congress should also include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under federal antidiscrimination legislation.

Rental Market Discrimination Against Same-Sex Couples: Evidence From a Pairwise-Matched Email Correspondence Test is available at: https://bit.ly/2AVpzLg