Biased landlords reject deaf, test finds
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Even when the potential renter meets all the typical income and residency requirements for leasing a house or apartment, a startling number of Pittsburgh-area landlords are still inclined to reject inquiries made by people who are deaf.
In a year-long test conducted by the Fair Housing Partnership of Greater Pittsburgh, researchers found 28 percent of landlords contacted by deaf people either hung up the phone, gave false information or used some other illegal means to deny the deaf person a place to live.
The Fair Housing Partnership on Thursday announced its findings from the project, which involved using both deaf and hearing people to call 200 area landlords who had advertised homes and apartments for rent on the online classified site Craigslist between 2009 and 2010.
Test reviewers found 11 violations were so severe they filed complaints against the landlords with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission. Seven of those cases have been settled and those landlords have undergone training in fair housing law. The other cases are pending.
"Our goal is not to just humiliate some landlords and make them feel bad; it's to change their behavior," said Jay Dworin, enforcement program director for the Downtown-based Fair Housing Partnership who oversaw the project. "Every settlement we do involves education.
"We're not filing complaints looking for a large settlement. Our main objective is that these people get trained on housing law. It is our job to continue to find discrimination where it exists."
In the testing audit, 56 of the 200 tests conducted (28 percent) showed either possible or clear and detailed evidence of discrimination as a result of the tester's hearing disability. Fifty of the testing results (25 percent) were inconclusive and 94 tests (47 percent) provided no evidence of discrimination.
Deaf people who contacted the landlords did so using the Internet Relay telephone system, which connects deaf or hard-of-hearing people through a computer to an operator.
In the tests, the deaf tester typed a message to the housing provider. The message was received by the operator as printed words. The relay operator then called the landlord by phone, explained the process and read the tester's typed words. As the landlord responded verbally, the operator typed the response into a computer, which the tester received as a typed response.
Shortly after, another tester with no hearing impairment called the same landlord and described an income, as well as a work and residency history that was slightly less favorable than what the hearing impaired person had offered.
Mr. Dworin pointed out that print records were made of all the relay phone tests. The testers job was only to stick to the script they were provided in terms of their income and other qualifications.
The test reviewers' job was to determine if discrimination had taken place.
Michelle Vore, 28, who is deaf, took part in the study. "When I found out about this project, I was really motivated and wanted to help out," said Mrs. Vore, a federal employee.
"All my life I've been discriminated against in one way or another, and this was a way to put real numbers behind it."
Most of the discrimination cases revolved around one of three kinds of illegal actions: denying the deaf person from living with a service dog or charging the deaf person a higher fee for using a service dog; repeatedly hanging up on the deaf person, indicating a refusal to give them an opportunity; and denying the availability of a vacant unit when the deaf person called, yet offering the rental to the non-hearing impaired person who called shortly afterward.
Researchers on the project reported discrimination against deaf people was found throughout the greater Pittsburgh area, from the largest apartment complexes to small landlords offering single-family homes spanning from Sewickley Heights to the poorest neighborhoods in the city.
Founded in 1984 to advance fair housing and equal opportunities, the Fair Housing Partnership is dedicated to addressing housing discrimination. It routinely conducts testing over an extended period of time to reach conclusions about the fairness of the local housing marketplace.
Previously, the organization conducted a study of local financial institutions from April 2007 to April 2008 that uncovered blatant examples of Pittsburgh mortgage lenders treating black borrowers unfairly.
Investigators used 50 pairs of black and white testers to gauge the prevalence and types of race discrimination in the Pittsburgh mortgage market, and found financial institutions charging black borrowers more for the same loan than Caucasian applicants, discouraging African-American borrowers from going forward in the loan process and either outright or effectively denying them loans.
First Published April 8, 2011 12:00 am