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Boston councilors to look at trying to catch racist real-estate brokers and landlords in the act

The City Council agreed today to look at setting up a sort of "secret shopper" that would pair white and minority testers to see what happens when they apply for the same apartment.

City Councilor Matt O'Malley (Jamaica Plain, West Roxbury), who co-sponsored the proposal, pointed to a recent study run in part by Suffolk University, that found Black applicants for apartments in Boston faced discrimination most of the time.

One of his co-sponsors, Lydia Edwards (North End, Charlestown, East Boston), who has volunteered as a tester for a Suffolk University program, said brokers have "probably been the biggest driver of discrimination in our city, if not the nation."

Edwards said a similar program in Seattle led to charges against landlords there and that a housing testing program here would lead to uncovering "who's actually hurting people, who's actually discriminating against people." She said that when coupled with a proposal she is working on with the administration to include housing equity in the city zoning code, the measure could help make Boston a leader in fighting housing discrimination.

Separately, Councilors Annissa Essaibi-George (at large), Liz Breadon (Allston/Brighton) and Edwards called for a hearing on even worse discrimination found against people seeking apartments with housing vouchers.

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Comments

Not a new idea, something like that was operating in Brookline in the mid 90's. Do not know if it was a state agency or a town idea behind it.

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Sounds like fun.

I once had a realtor explain how to "legally" skirt the rental discrimination rules. They advised landlords to list apartments for a few hundred above what they'd be willing to rent the unit for. If they liked a prospective tenant who said the place was a bit on the high side of their budget, offer them the lower rent. This one is harder to catch.

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Even for the privileged (e.g. me as middle-class white person), lead paint was impossible to deal with in the rental market.

If someone just needs to find a place to live, are they going to sacrifice lead compliance to have a roof over their heads? The City and State need to address the lead paint issue more, which disproportionately affects lower income families who don't (think they) have means of recourse.

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I can see the landlord's point of view for wanting to set the price for the worst case scenario in cases like "family" as a protected class. If there is ONE single person renting it's less wear and tear, cheaper water bill, happy house. But if it's a family of 10 demanding to rent the same 2 BR, then obviously much higher expenses for the landlord and potential for noise complaints from other tenants.

Are you as a tenant okay with moving into a triple decker below a family of 10? Well, you'd be discriminating too if you admit you don't want that but society won't punish you for it.

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Discriminating against families is common ... but it is also ILLEGAL.

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I think the point was clearly that even if it is illegal, it is also RATIONAL.

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There are some space limits in Mass.

The state code requires 150 s.f. of living space for the first occupancy and 100 s.f. for each additional person (3 occupants = 350 s.f. of living space), and 70 s.f. of bedroom space for the 1st person, plus 50 s.f. for additional person (120 s.f. for 2 persons in one bedroom)

You'd need a lot of space to house 10 people legally.

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Unless you think 1,050 square feet is a lot of space.

That space limitation wouldn’t affect much. 1024 sf is the average size of a two bedroom apartment in Boston.

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As I read this, the 1050 is just for common space. The bedroom space would be on top of that. I'm not sure exactly how they calculate that, but it's at least another 570 square feet (and that would have to be in the 2 bedrooms, not the common space).

The state code requires 150 s.f. of living space for the first occupancy and 100 s.f. for each additional person (3 occupants = 350 s.f. of living space), and 70 s.f. of bedroom space for the 1st person, plus 50 s.f. for additional person (120 s.f. for 2 persons in one bedroom)

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Customers are allowed to discriminate, merchants aren’t. That’s why segregated restaurants are illegal but you can choose where you eat. People get to choose where they live, landlords can’t turn paying customers away from shelter.

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My last property owner required a credit check. He didn’t care about my race, gender, age, level of employment. Just wanted that one number. Whatever his threshold was that was how he decided.

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If the guy wanted to be discriminatory his "magic credit score" number could change depending on who he wanted to rent to.

If a landlord is going to require a credit check (which is already discriminatory) they should be up front about what minimum score they are willing to accept.

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Why exactly is a credit check discriminatory? Is the fact the landlord wants to get paid his rent discriminatory? An individual's financial history is probably a reasonable indicator of how that individual will act in the future.

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When I was a renter/tenant here in the Boston area, neither of my landlords asked for a credit check. That was back in the 1980's. Even though I've been a homeowner for over 30 years, it certainly seems that landlords really are tightening the screws on renters right now.

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But when I last got a new apt 9 years ago I was required to provide my credit score. Nothing new.

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But if he’s basing it off credit score he’s at least trying to be objective.

Also, there’s at least hard evidence if someone was discriminated against.

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If they're honest, why should they deny giving it?

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If landlord defaults on their bills you are still entitled to tenancy for the term of your lease, regardless of who owns the property.

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And the landlord is entitled to the rent even if the tenant can't/won't pay, but that doesn't mean they get it.

There have been plenty of horror stories of banks foreclosing on rental properties and evicting the tenants illegally.

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he likely isn't doing repairs too.

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Then you call inspectional services, stop paying rent, and then if you don't like living rent free you can always move.

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But if a landlord can ding you because credit scores show you're a deadbeat, I'd like the same option before I actually sign a lease.

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That's pretty easy if two people have the same credit score just give it to the whiter sounding name.

Or just say you're basing it only on credit scores but be discriminatory anyways.

Boom. Easy discrimination.

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A credit report has so much more in it too. The landlord might be more inclined to give the apartment to the person who two apartments ago lived in Brookline vs someone with an old Roxbury address.

It's not always a Black vs white thing either. Someone who appears richer is going to get preferred over someone who is perceived to come from a modest background even if it shouldn't matter for the purpose of the apartment rental.

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As a landlord (though not in Boston) I require a credit check to see how good you are at paying your bills on time. I dont give a shit about the # so long as you are paying your bills regularly.

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If you announce this I’m sure people will be on their best behavior for a period of time. Keep it ongoing and random and prioritize responding to complaints

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It's standard practice for Landlords to do background checks of all rental applicants, no matter what color their skin is. If I were a landlord, I would make my decision based on the applicant's background check and references from prior landlords and NOT the color of their skin.

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What if the owner claims a religious or moral conviction as the basis for discriminating against a prospective tenant. An Evangelical Christian refuses to rent to a Gay couple based on their religious belief.

The Supreme Court effectively said that is okay.

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Uh no, Supreme Court made no such ruling that would apply to tenancy. Maybe you're thinking of the recent ruling regarding employing teachers that also teach religion as part of their job, which is not relevant here.

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You win the award for the most uninformed and ignorant post of the day...and there's still 7 hours and 5 minutes left! That's how big your lead is! Please be kind and don't breed.

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In Mass., anyone who occupies one unit and rents out the other in a 2-family building is not covered by state fair housing laws so can legally discriminate on the basis of sex, religion or national origin (but not race, that's covered by Federal law).

No landlord of any size building can discriminate based on race, receipt of public assistance, or receipt of a housing subsidy.

https://www.masslegalhelp.org/housing/lt1-chapter-7-discrimination.pdf

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Correct.
I hadn't realized it was specifically two-family buildings. There was a case a few years ago, maybe it was RI and not MA, that found for a woman who owned a four or six-unit building and occupied one of the units herself - she had a policy of not renting to unmarried couples.
The ruling drew some sort of cap on the size of the building - four or six units, maybe, the type of thing you would see with a triple-decker or sub-dividing a large house - that this exception applied to.

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You are incorrect about the owner-occupied two family exemption. There is no exemption for discriminating based on receipt of public assistance (i.e. use of a housing voucher). There is a helpful chart at https://www.masslegalhelp.org/housing/lt1-chapter-7-what-is-illegal-disc... or you can look at 151b section 4 paragraph 10.

The statement that no landlord of any size building can discriminate based on receipt of public assistance is correct. There are exemptions for race in the Fair Housing Act and 151b based on owner-occupied status and size; however the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (a federal law) makes it illegal to discriminate in housing based on race and there are no exemptions built into that law.

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You replied to me and corrected me using the same link that I provided?

I think you misread my comments.

No landlord of any size building can discriminate based on race, receipt of public assistance, or receipt of a housing subsidy.

A 2-family owner occupied landlord can discriminate legally on the basis of sex, religion and national origin. NO landlord can discriminate on the basis of race or public assistance.

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Yep, I misread. I thought you were saying that the statement in italics was incorrect. Regardless, I think I stated it a bit more clearly and it never hurts to emphasize the law repeatedly. There is far too much discrimination happening.

Also when I clicked on your link I was taken to the toc in that doc. I was trying to link to the page with the exemptions chart. Oh well. This is why I don't usually wade in.

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Change is not always about sudden movements. This ruling is just one step toward allowing religious and moral beliefs to be legal excuses for discrimination.

Forgotten the Hobby Lobby Decision already? This is the pattern of the current Supreme Court to whittle away at government protections by creating a foundation of reasoning based on this idea of religious or moral objection.

The frog metaphor is apt here. Put the frog in cold water in a pot and it's okay. Turn on the burner very low. Slowly turn up the heat. Eventually the frog dies but without realizing it was literally cooked to death.

As for most ignorant comment: Apparently your mother never taught you a basic guide to getting along with other people: If you can't say something nice then shut up. Your poor wit of insult just reflects back the limited imagination.

But that is to be expected in the days of Benedict Donald.

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And I don't think that the City of Boston should be doing it. It should be a state function. I'd bet anything Boston landlords and realtors are at least marginally less racist than their suburban counterparts. The Attorney General's Office should be doing this, then charging the offenders.

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It is done, you are right to wonder why the city councilors are focusing on this.

The answer is .. well, you know why

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You think the city would be as segregated as it is if this was already done? Yeah right

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is doing a piss poor job. THAT'S why they're focused on it now.

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The City can't stop whatever is in the State's power to do.
However - it is probably in the City's best interest to police itself as much as possible.

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When I worked as a rental agent, the most common landlord discrimination was not wanting to rent to people with young children because the lead laws create landlord liability and a duty to delead or mitigate the apartment.

Second most common, and still quite rare, was TENANTS not wanting to rent near certain races of people or from landlord of certain traces and most often it was mainly different asian groups being prejudice against other asians.

That was my experience anyway. I'm sure other people saw other things going on but Mass has many protected classes and those were the only two I ever encountered that was clear discrimination.

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is that most of the brokers they refer to probably have nice ads in Boston Magazine.

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I would disagree. From casual glances over the years, those in that magazine are from the suburbs and almost all deal with rich people in the suburbs. They only care about the color green, most likely. They don't have the opportunity to be racist because their clientele is mostly white like them.

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Think those overpriced shitholes in the Seaport are featured in The Dig?

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"they don't have the opportunity to be racist, because a racist system already insulates them entirely from people of other races"

Today I learned, only Rich White People want to live in the suburbs, and that's why only Rich White People live in the suburbs. SMH

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These research studies, if done well, are a good way to expose racism.

I'd prefer if the AG's office did the research though. Seems like a reach for the city council to conduct a careful study.

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It always shocks me at the lengths people will go through to avoid taking money from people that they irrationally dislike.

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Are section eight voucher holders part of this as that was a hot issue when I was a landlord for a short time.....surprised no one has mentioned this.

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I remember reading about racial discrimination sting operations like this, going back 30+ years. It doesn't seem to have made a damn bit of difference. Never will, unless there are actual consequences involved.

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This sounds good in theory, wait till you see it in practice.

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