Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley today announced that her office has settled 20 cases against landlords and real estate agents accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws across Massachusetts. The companies allegedly made discriminatory statements in online rental advertisements on Craigslist.org which stated “no children” or “no Section 8.” Section 8 is a rental subsidy program of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Under Massachusetts law, landlords and realtors cannot refuse to rent to families with children under the lead paint law or because someone receives a housing subsidy to aid in paying their rent. Both the settlements and lawsuits came as part of a statewide investigation into reports of widespread discriminatory internet advertising. The case involved properties in Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, Essex, Bristol, Plymouth, and Hampden counties.
Housing discrimination is a serious problem in Massachusetts. Particularly as more families face tough financial times and have no choice but to rent, landlords and real estate professionals must recognize that the rental market is a regulated industry and compliance with our anti-discrimination laws is among their most important obligations, Coakley said. While we hope that this enforcement initiative will have a deterrent effect, our office will continue to monitor Craigslist and take action against persons and entities that violate the law.
The property owners and real estate agents are collectively required to pay Massachusetts $18,250 with $8,750 suspended pending compliance with the agreements. They must also attend trainings on state and federal fair housing laws and remove lead paint hazards from rental units. The defendants are also required by the agreement to advertise any future rental property as “Equal Housing Opportunity” properties, to maintain a record of rental applicants submitted by prospective tenants and to to report all discrimination complaints received to the attorney general’s office. The defendants will also place more than 60 postings on Craigslist to inform the website’s uses that the attorney general monitors the site for discriminatory advertising and that it is against Massachusetts law to state a discriminatory preference against families with children or against recipients of housing assistance subsidies.
We’ll have to file this one under “I told you so!” In my prior post, Massachusetts Landlord Tenant Law: A Legal Refresher Course For Landlords, I warned landlords about the consequences of an illegal policy of refusing to rent to families with children or to tenants receiving federal or state rent subsidies. I’m disappointed these landlords are apparently not avid readers of the Massachusetts Real Estate Law Blog!