WASHINGTON—Today, in a historic civil rights action challenging digital housing discrimination on Facebook, a non-profit group and an older woman seeking to represent a class of thousands of older tenants filed discrimination charges against seven housing companies (including a number of industry leaders), alleging that the companies denied older prospective the opportunity to receive their paid advertisements on Facebook for apartments.
This is the first civil rights case involving Facebook advertising to name and take legal action against the housing companies that have allegedly engaged in discrimination when sending paid ads on Facebook. Prior housing discrimination cases against Facebook did not identify or sue housing providers.
Housing Rights Initiative (HRI) and Ms. Neuhtah Opiotennione, a 54-year-old District of Columbia resident, have lodged age bias charges with the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Montgomery County (Maryland) Office of Human Rights against some of the largest companies that lease or manage apartments in the nation. Some of them manage dozens or hundreds of apartment buildings.
The charges describe and provide examples of the age-restricted ads purchased from Facebook to recruit tenants or home purchases. (Examples of the ads are attached to the charges and shown below).
The seven companies hit with charges are: Bozzuto, Greystar, Kettler, Wood Partners, Fairfield Residential, Fore Property, and The Tower Companies, all of which are alleged to have sent age-restricted Facebook housing ads in the past year.
HRI and the older residents are seeking a commitment from these seven companies to implement non-discriminatory policies throughout all of their digital advertising, educate and train their staff on these policies, monitor their own compliance, and compensate older residents who were denied information about renting apartments.
HRI is also announcing today that it has identified dozens of housing companies in D.C. and other housing markets that allegedly discriminated against older Americans in digital advertising, including some of the nation’s largest multi-family housing developers, brokers and agents, and home builders.
Today’s charges come at a time when Facebook remains under fire for charges that it enabled housing companies to discriminate based on protected statuses like race, gender, and age when publishing paid ads. Although Facebook agreed in March 2019 to disable certain audience selection tools on its ad platform to prevent discrimination, a week later the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development filed a housing discrimination action against Facebook. That case remains pending. In July 2019, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced an investigation of similar practices.
The charges open up a new front in the fight against digital discrimination. They suggest that housing discrimination has been a systemic problem on Facebook. Online advertising has become one of the primary means by which companies who rent apartments or sell homes identify and interact with prospective customers.
Aaron Carr, HRI’s Executive Director said, “Housing discrimination was banned nationwide in 1968. It’s shocking that over 50 years later so many major companies in America seem to have ignored the message when advertising apartments and homes. We’re calling on all housing companies to stop discriminating when they advertise housing opportunities on all platforms.”
Neuhtah Opiotennione, said, “I’m shocked and disappointed to hear that I, along with other older residents, have been excluded from housing ads on Facebook. We deserve the same opportunity to hear about apartments as younger people.”
Peter Romer-Friedman, Counsel at Outten & Golden LLP and the lead attorney in major settlements with Facebook in March 2019, said “Digital discrimination is undermining equal opportunity in America. Your age, gender, or zip code should not determine your opportunity to rent an apartment, buy a home, or get a mortgage. The internet is not a civil rights-free zone.”
Matthew Handley, a Partner at Handley Farah & Anderson LLP, said, “Purposefully denying information about housing opportunities based on a person’s age is precisely the type of conduct local fair housing law is designed to prevent. We hope that these enforcement actions will ensure that the housing industry corrects its behavior and welcomes all persons into their communities.”
Pooja Shethji, an associate at Outten & Golden LLP, said, “All housing companies have an obligation to follow the law and guarantee equal opportunity, including when they advertise housing online.”
For more information about these complaints, please contact Matthew Handley at 202-559-2411, or [email protected]. Copies of the charges filed in the District of Columbia can be found HERE, and copies of the charges filed in Montgomery County, Maryland can be found HERE.