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What is Housing Bias?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 October 2016
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Housing bias is a form of discrimination in which preferential treatment is given to certain people in the housing market. Housing bias can take a number of forms, from refusing to rent to single mothers to the infamous restrictive covenants which prevented black Americans from buying homes through the 1960s. Many nations have made housing bias illegal, and there are systems in place for reporting cases of suspected bias. If an individual or company is convicted of housing bias, the penalty can sometimes be quite severe.

One of the most classic forms of housing bias can be found in advertisements for homes to rent. For example, an ad could specify that applicants need to be Christian, or that women renters are preferred. Landlords may also express a preference for people of a particular skin color. By using language like “no Chinese,” a landlord hopes to discourage people he or she thinks are undesirable from applying to rent a home, apartment, or room. In some parts of the world, this type of language is outlawed under fair housing laws, although landlords may specify that they want nonsmokers, people without pets, or people who do not use drugs, because these preferences do not violate antidiscrimination laws.

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Housing bias for renters may also be more subtle. For example, a landlord may simply never rent to black tenants, even if he or she is legally restricted from specifying this in an ad, or a landlord may require higher deposits from some people than from others. This sort of housing bias can be difficult to prove in court, making it very challenging to prosecute, and it often goes unreported, because tenants may not realize that it is going on, or they may not be aware of the laws surrounding housing bias.

People who want to buy homes may also experience housing bias. Most infamously, people of a particular skin color or creed may not be allowed to purchase homes in particular neighborhoods. Although this is rarely spelled out in many countries because of housing bias laws, subtle pressure or suggestions may be used to discourage people to look elsewhere. For example, a realtor serving Hispanic clients might simply not show them homes in certain neighborhoods.

Minorities tend to be the most common victims of housing bias, although cases of reverse bias do sometimes crop up. Poor people are also targets for housing bias, especially if they receive government assistance with housing payments, and parents sometimes experience housing bias as well, from landlords who are concerned about the damage which could be caused by children. All of these groups are protected by housing bias laws. Most nations have agencies where housing bias can be reported, like the Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the United States.

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