Same-sex couples face significant housing bias, study finds

A vacant Housing and Urban Development (HUD) home is pictured in North Las Vegas, Nevada April 2, 2013.
A vacant Housing and Urban Development (HUD) home is pictured in North Las Vegas, Nevada April 2, 2013.
Steve Marcus/Reuters

A new study released Tuesday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development found that same-sex couples were treated less favorably than heterosexual couples in the online rental housing market.

Conducting the first study of its kind, the department studied 50 metropolitan markets from June to October 2011 and concluded that same-sex couples were “significantly less likely than heterosexual couples to get favorable responses to e-mail inquiries about electronically advertised rental housing.” More specifically, “heterosexual couples were favored over gay male couples in 15.9% of tests and over lesbian couples in 15.6% of tests.”

To measure the results, testers sent two emails–one from a heterosexual couple and one from a gay couple–to landlords, inquiring about the availability of a rental unit. Heterosexual couples were significantly more likely than their gay male and lesbian counterparts to receive an initial e-mail response. At this preliminary stage of the rental housing transaction, landlords did not consider any other qualifications for the housing besides their sexual orientation.

Federal housing laws do not prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but 20 states and Washington D.C. have taken preventative measures to pass laws that prohibit discrimination again LGBT people. The Fair Housing Act, instituted in 1968, bars discrimination in the sale or rental of housing on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap, but does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

While the Fair Housing Act bars discrimination in housing based on race, a separate HUD study found that real estate agents  across 28 metropolitan areas showed white home buyers more homes than African-American or Asian-American buyers with similar credit levels and housing specifications. But the study noted no difference in sales behavior between white and Hispanic home buyers.

Legal measures, such as the Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME) Act which prohibits housing discrimination everywhere, have been discussed but have not yet been introduced in Congress.

HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan announced the study’s findings during an event for federal LGBT employees and said the administration will work towards making sure people – whatever their sexual orientation – will be treated equally when searching for housing. “This is simply wrong. It is unjust, and we as a country cannot stand for it,” Donovan said.