At first glance, a July 16 housing advertisement posted on the Bellingham Craigslist page was like any other, until readers looked closer.
“WHITE PEOPLE ONLY” was written within the description of the advertisement for a two-bedroom apartment at the Sunset Pond apartment complex in Bellingham.
Habitat Properties, L.P., the parent company who rents out properties at Sunset Pond, denied responsibility for the post after it appeared on Facebook. Sunset Pond property manager Janice Soderberg said the company does not know who posted the advertisement, but they have suspicion that someone, perhaps an ex-employee, hacked into their Craigslist account and wrote the post.
Apart from the discriminatory statement, the information within the advertisement is the same as the apartment complex description on the Sunset Pond website, leading Soderberg to believe that someone copied and pasted the information from their webpage, she said.
Soderberg said employees at Habitat Properties are trained in fair-housing issues and have regular fair-housing workshops.
Soderberg said the company has one of the best records of fair housing and equal-opportunity housing in the city.
“We are all extensively trained in fair-housing law,” Soderberg said.
The advertisement sparked a debate after the Bellingham Tenants Union posted a photo of the ad to its Facebook page on the same day.
Matt Petryni, an organizer with the Bellingham Tenants Union, said the post was brought to his attention by another member of the tenants union who was searching for housing. The member declined to comment to The Western Front.
Petryni said his first step after discovering the post was to take a screenshot and report it to Craigslist. As of July 20, the post has been taken down from the Bellingham Craigslist page.
Petryni said he also encouraged the person who brought attention to the advertisement to report the post to the Fair Housing Center of Washington, an organization that works to prevent discrimination in the state housing market.
“We see racial discrimination in housing unfortunately all the time,” Petryni said. “But most of the time it’s a lot more subtle, or it’s hard to prove that they’re even doing it. This was a really blatant case where it was just out in front with [racial] discrimination.”
According to a 2012 study of impediments to fair housing in Bellingham, 56 percent of discrimination complaints filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development were associated with disabilities. Thirty-one percent were associated with racial discrimination and 13 percent of complaints were associated with discrimination based on national origin.
Petryni said he often sees discrimination based on family status and religion in the housing market as well.
Petryni described situations in which he had seen people advertise for a rental or house and include statements such as “no kids” or “looking for a Christian couple” in their descriptions.
“We see racial discrimination in housing unfortunately all the time. But most of the time it’s a lot more subtle, or it’s hard to prove that they’re even doing it. This was a really blatant case where it was just out in front with [racial] discrimination.”
Matt Petryni, Bellingham Tenants Union organizer
These types of discrimination are also illegal, according to Washington State Fair Housing laws.
In Washington state, tenants are protected from discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex or gender, number of children, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity, marital status, and military or veteran status.
Residents of Washington have these protections under the federal Fair Housing Act and the Washington State Law Against Discrimination.
Aside from the discrimination that was blatant in the post, Petryni said that the advertisement could have been a scam to get prospective tenants to pay non-refundable screening and application fees. The discriminatory advertisement showcased a non-refundable screening fee of $35 per adult.
“You’ve got to watch out for those things,” Petryni said, “One main thing is making sure that the person who is showing the unit has the legal right to be renting it out to you, and that’s the best way that a person can protect themselves [from scams].”
Petryni also said a good way to avoid scams in renting is for tenants to make sure they are able to do a walkthrough of the potential unit or property before paying any screening or application fees.
If you or someone you know is experiencing housing discrimination in Washington, contact the Fair Housing Center of Washington state and file a complaint.