February 8, 2006 4:28 PM PST

Suit against Craigslist claims discriminatory ads

A Chicago-based public interest legal group has sued Craigslist over hundreds of housing posts that have included race, gender or other discriminatory restrictions.

The Chicago Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed suit in federal court Monday, charging that the posts on the popular Internet site violate federal fair-housing rules, which forbid excluding possible tenants on the basis of race, gender, family status, religion or other protected categories.

Attorney Stephen Libowsky, who's handling the case for the civil rights group, said that Craigslist provided a good service but should be held to the same standards that newspapers and other publications have met over the past few decades.

"We've had decades of gains since civil rights legislation was passed," Libowsky said. "We're concerned that hard-fought gains that we've made would be lost, just because we now read on a computer screen what we used to read in a newspaper."

The case taps into what has been a controversial legal question since the early days of the Internet but that has almost always been decided in favor of Internet companies.

Unlike newspapers or magazines, Internet sites are often made up of content submitted wholly by visitors or readers, without any intervention by an editor. Courts and Congress have typically said that means the sites are shielded from traditional libel or copyright infringement liability, if they remove offending posts when notified.

In the broadest legal statement on the issue, Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act says in part that "No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider."

The Chicago public interest group said that it had found more than 200 instances of discriminatory language on Craigslist's Chicago site, with language such as "no minorities" or "Ladies please rent from me."

Libowsky said the group is not looking for a specific result but wanted either a human or automated editor to be able to filter these postings out.

Craigslist does notify users on every housing listing page that discriminatory posts are illegal under federal law, and it asks readers to contact the site if they see offending posts.

Craigslist Chief Executive Officer Jim Buckmaster said in an e-mail that the company was "committed to fair housing for everyone," and did more than was legally required to educate its users about fair housing law, and to give readers tools to identify and remove discriminatory ads.

"We'll try to make lemonade out of this lemon, by transforming the time and money that will now be diverted from serving our users into setting a positive legal precedent for society at large," Buckmaster said.

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15 comments

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This is so stupid.
Lets say an old chinese lady in chinatown NYC wants to only rent to chinese speaking but since the law enactd she now has to rent her room to some 400 pound stranger?

That means a Pastor must rent to a Satanist?
This is a very very stupid law.

A renter has every right to screen users out and Human resources do it all the time.

Sorry someone with better qualifications filled the job we with you luck in your endevours.

Renters have every right to deny illegal aliens.
Posted by inachu (963 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Federal Exceptions
There are exceptions to rental equality, based on the number of apartments (less than 5 I think), and whether the owner occupies one of them. That's on the federal level, states and cities do whatever they want. For example I think that Ann Arbor bans all sex orientation discrimination, even for roommates, but I'm not sure.
Posted by sanenazok (3449 comments )
Link Flag
Is it stupid?
Here's another scenario:

A dude is an African-America citizen of the US with a job that pays around $50,000 a year, has a FICO score of 730 (excellent credit) and no criminal record. So is he, as a minority not allowed to rent or buy where he chooses? Is it OK to advertise a house or rental that says he need not apply solely and simply because he is African American?

I don't think so and I think this is why we have the Fair Housing Act.

"Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability)."
Posted by alvester (15 comments )
Link Flag
No minorities?
You mean no WASPs?
Posted by Hernys (744 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Re: No minorities?
>You mean no WASPs?

Caucasians are still the majority (at least 225 million strong):

"Nationally, the country's white population increased 7.3 percent between 1990 and 1999 to 224.6 million"

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/08/30/minority.population/" target="_newWindow">http://archives.cnn.com/2000/US/08/30/minority.population/</a>

Sorry I ruined your paranoid delusions.
Posted by pch4101 (23 comments )
Link Flag
In the modern era
It is a truism that bigots are now much less of a social nuisance
than attorneys. No matter what one thinks of racists -- and I
happen to think they are moral sludge -- the right to property
should allow one to rent to whomever one pleases, just as it allows
a renter to refuse to rent from a landlord he dislikes. If we have a
level playing field, why do we allow tenants to discriminate in
choosing from whom to rent?
Posted by nicmart (1829 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just run background criminal checks.
My landlord friend says 90% of the people asking to rent don't bother to apply when they are informed that a background criminal check (and wants/warrants) will be done at the sheriffs dept (free to property owners), along with a credit check and a house eviction check. Especially since he will not rent to anyone with a criminal record.
Posted by likes2comment (101 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Social vs. Legal Discrimination
There's a difference between denying rental to someone based on legal reasons (illegal alien, criminal background) and social reasons (thinking you can tell someone's moral character by the color of their skin, beliefs or sexual orientation). This article was talking about the social discrimination.

At no point did anyone say that a landlord has to take anyone who shows up at their door. Anti-discrimination rules say that if a person is fully qualified by all the criteria that you set out, you may not reject them on the basis of social reasons.
Posted by devans00 (26 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Stop wasting time/$$ suring companies and let them do their good work
That Chicago public interest legal group has no basis for their suit. Come on, the article even says that Craigslist inform every1 that post housing ads about the housing anti-discrimination and provide a tool for people to report bad ads. What else u want Craiglist to do, baby every little thing. As far as i see it, it's fine as it is. If that public interest legal group wants to help protect people from discrimination, instead of wasting time/$$ on suing a company that has better things to do, and just go online themselves and patrol craigslist and report people.

Dont waste other people about something that isnt broke or trying to convince people that Craigslist is doing anything wrong.
Posted by Thinkforachange (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Hallmark of Craigslist Meme Peak
The Craigslist meme is peaking, so the honeymoon period is ending.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.realmeme.com/roller/page/realmeme/?entry=craigslist_meme" target="_newWindow">http://www.realmeme.com/roller/page/realmeme/?entry=craigslist_meme</a>

Bad news about Craigslist was predictable enough that I generated this graph and commentary together in December in expectation.
Posted by Broward Horne (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Fair Housing Act doesn't apply
How does the fair housing act apply to craig's list? They are not the rental agency. They are simply online classified ads. The classifieds in the newspaper don't have to adhere to that law. Why is this any different. The rental agency itself has the responsibility to deal with the Fair Housing Act.
Posted by bemenaker (438 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Guess what!
The simple answer regarding newsprint is that, you're wrong.

They certainly can be subject to a cause of action for defamation. That's why they have lawyers to advise them regarding content and policy.
Posted by jesdog (66 comments )
Link Flag
Yes it does apply.
The fair housing act covers classified ads. In this case the only difference is that it is online. This is a brief quote from the US government's web site devoted to the Fair Housing Act.

"Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability)."
Posted by alvester (15 comments )
Link Flag
The Fair Housing Act
"Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act), as amended, prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of dwellings, and in other housing-related transactions, based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (including children under the age of 18 living with parents of legal custodians, pregnant women, and people securing custody of children under the age of 18), and handicap (disability)."
Posted by alvester (15 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Consumers are smarter
Anyone who has "ladies rent from me" do you thing a woman is going to respond to this ad? It's creepy. I wish they'd stop insulting us, the young generation is smart and savvy, our tolerance filters are much lower as well. Sue the individual, not craigslist!
Posted by boomtrek1 (3 comments )
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