House Rules

Fair housing and free speech


Looking for a gay black Buddhist to share the rent? It may soon be illegal to say so in an online advertisement.

The Fair Housing Council of the San Fernando Valley and the Fair Housing Council of San Diego are suing the popular website for violating federal anti-discrimination law by allowing ads that express roommate preferences. The ads cited in the lawsuit—presumably the worst of the bunch—include one requesting "no drugs, kids, or animals" and one that specifies "no psychos or anyone on mental medication." Another advertiser writes that he would "prefer a Christian male, no women allowed in home, living for Christ."

In November the U.S. District Court in Chicago dismissed a similar lawsuit against the online classified site Craigslist. Drawing from a pool of 200,000 advertisements posted in a six-month period, the plaintiffs managed to find 100 objectionable ads, which included such incendiary phrases as "near St Gertrude's church" and "Buddhist temple nearby." Equally offensive was the description of a "vibrant southwest Hispanic neighborhood offering great classical Mexican culture, restaurants, and businesses."

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit heard oral arguments in the case in December. The judges will have to decide whether the Communications Decency Act, which protects website operators from liability for material written by others, invalidates the lawsuit, and whether it's a violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1964 for a Hispanic Christian woman to look for a roommate willing to walk to church with her through a "vibrant neighborhood."