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Ninth Circuit holds that the Fair Housing Act does not regulate roommate choices or advertisements

February 9th, 2012 by Joseph William Singer

The Ninth Circuit ruled in Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley v. Roommate, LLC, 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 1971 (9th Cir. 2012), that the Fair Housing does not regulate roommate choices or advertisements expressing preferences with respect to roommates, dismissing a claim against, a website that allowed individuals to place ads stating preferences based on sex, sexual orientation, religion, and familial status in connection with roommate searches. The opinion by Judge Alex Kozinski noted that the Fair Housing Act regulates “dwellings” which are defined to include “any building, structure, or portion thereof which is occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more families.” 42 U.S.C. §3602(b)(emphasis added by this editor). Despite the “or portion thereof” language, the court noted that the constitution protects rights of intimate association and that it would be unconstitutional to restrict roommate choices so the statute should be read to preclude such regulation if possible. Since the statute could be interpreted to regulate only the transfer of an “independent living unit” rather than shared space, and doing so would avoid constitutional problems, that is how the court interpreted the “portion thereof” language. The court also held that advertisements that express preferences that would otherwise be discriminatory are lawful in the roommate context since §3604(c) prohibits ads that “indicate any [discriminatory] preference…with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling” and “dwelling” does not include shared living space, there is no prohibition against discriminatory roommate ads. This suggests that it is lawful to place an ad that expresses racial preferences as well as preference with respect to sex, sexual orientation, religion or familial status as long as the space is shared rather than transferred. At the same time, that fact situation was not addressed by the court because does not seek such information.

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