Craigslist and Housing Discrimination

Randy Picker (my college classmate, BTW, I’ll take whatever distantly-reflected glory I can get) posted this entry of the U of C law profs blog about a recent Seventh Circuit opinion in which Judge Easterbrook wrote an opinion holding that unlike a newspaper, Craigslist cannot be held liable for discriminatory housing ads posted on its site.

Randy summarizes:

publish a “No Minorities Welcome” ad in the Chicago Tribune and the Trib violates the Fair Housing Act. But put the same ad on Craigslist and, at least in the Seventh Circuit, Craigslist faces no liability under the FHA given the protection given to it under the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Randy’s first point is that this disadvantages newspapers, since they will be shut out of what he apparently believes to be a huge market for overtly discriminatory housing want ads. I’m not so sure about that one. But his second point goes to the real crux of the matter — “if discriminatory ads are offensive in newspapers, they should be offensive on Craigslist.” This seems right to me, but I’d be interested in hearing from all you younger, digital-generation lurkers out there — should online boards get a pass that their analog equivalents don’t because of the difficulty of monitoring content?


2 Responses to Craigslist and Housing Discrimination

  1. foodgirl says:

    This is an issue that’s hit the Internet-waves a few times in the past.

    I totally understand the rationale and history behind the case(s), but some of it is way over the top. Back in 2006, the problem for those arguing “subtle” discrimination was being ridiculously nit-picky – for example, posters saying in the ad that the apartment was “next door to a Catholic Church” or “Buddhist temple nearby.” To me, that’s geography.

    Is a poster asking for “no drugs or animals” discriminatory, as was also claimed in that lawsuit? I thought that was one of the agreements one makes as a lessee – as much as I want a dog, I know my lease says ‘no.’ Or, what about the equally offensive description of an apartment, quoted in that suit, as situated in a “vibrant southwest Hispanic neighborhood offering great classical Mexican culture, restaurants, and businesses”? Part of the benefit of Craigslist postings, compared to newspapers, I think, is that there is not a word limit, and people can use whatever descriptions of the apartment/neighborhood/themselves that they want.

    Also, if people are searching for roommates and apartment-shares, they would be out of luck if the 2006 ruling had gone the other way. I remember being aghast that one of the postings pulled by anti-discrimination lawyers was for someone who wanted “one nice quiet person” as a roommate. When postings such as this can get between 10 and 100 responses, I charge discrimination if I don’t get the space!

    signed –
    a non-nice person 🙂

  2. laurabethnielsen says:

    aww foodgirl, you are too nice.

    I think the real issue here is not housing discrimination (which I hope we can all agree that we are against), but rather, what is the obligation of a for-profit organization to guard against facilitating it?

    I would hope Craig’s list would take down something overtly racist — No minorities need apply or whatever, but the difference to me is who creates the content. for a newspaper to run a discriminatory ad, someone has to put it in. All the Craig’s List content is user generated to the organization whose liability we are discussing should be tempered by the organization’s ability to do anything about it. In the newspaper’s case, not print it in the first place. in craig’s List’s case, take it down when notified.

    Just like advertising your kidney for sale in the classifieds. A newspaper would not print it int eh first place, but Ebay just takes them down when they go up.

    Also, it is a convenient way for the authorities to bust housing discriminators (like they use the sex parts of craig’s list to bust prostitutes and drug dealers who advertise there in “code” that is about as subtle as an anvil.

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