EletiofeAlgorithms Allegedly Penalized Black Renters. The US Government Is...

Algorithms Allegedly Penalized Black Renters. The US Government Is Watching


- Advertisment -

Two years ago, Mary Louis submitted an application to rent an apartment at Granada Highlands in Malden, Massachusetts. She liked that the unit had two full bathrooms and that there was a pool on the premises. But the landlord denied her the apartment, allegedly due to a score assigned to her by a tenant-screening algorithm made by SafeRent.

Louis responded with references to prove 16 years of punctual rent payments, to no avail. Instead she took a different apartment that cost $200 more a month in an area with a higher crime rate. But a class-action filed by Louis and others last May argues that SafeRent scores based in part on information in a credit report amounted to discrimination against Black and Hispanic renters in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The groundbreaking legislation prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, disability, religion, or national origin and was passed in 1968 by Congress a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

That case is still pending, but the US Department of Justice last week used a brief filed with the court to send a warning to landlords and the makers of tenant-screening algorithms. SafeRent had argued that algorithms used to screen tenants aren’t subject to the Fair Housing Act, because its scores only advise landlords and don’t make decisions. The DOJ’s brief, filed jointly with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, dismisses that claim, saying the act and associated case law leave no ambiguity.

“Housing providers and tenant screening companies that use algorithms and data to screen tenants are not absolved from liability when their practices disproportionately deny people of color access to fair housing opportunities,” Department of Justice civil rights division leader Kristen Clarke said in a statement.

Like in many areas of business and government, algorithms that assign scores to people have become more common in the housing industry. But although claimed to improve efficiency or identify “better tenants,” as SafeRent marketing material suggests, tenant-screening algorithms could be contributing to historically persistent housing discrimination, despite decades of civil rights law. A 2021 study by the US National Bureau of Economic Research that used bots using names associated with different groups to apply to more than 8,000 landlords found significant discrimination against renters of color, and particularly African Americans. 

“It’s a relief that this is being taken seriously—there’s an understanding that algorithms aren’t inherently neutral or objective and deserve the same level of scrutiny as human decisionmakers,” says Michele Gilman, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and former civil rights lawyer at the Department of Justice. “Just the fact that the DOJ is in on this I think is a big move.”

2020 investigation by The Markup and Propublica found that tenant-screening algorithms often encounter obstacles like mistaken identity, especially for people of color with common last names. A Propublica assessment of algorithms made by the Texas-based company RealPage last year suggested it can drive up rents.

Latest news

Noncompetes Are Dead—and Tech Workers Are Free to Roam

More US workers will soon be free to leave their employers to work for rivals, thanks to a new...

Tesla Promises ‘More Affordable Models’ and a ‘Cybercab’

Tesla is accelerating plans for a lineup of new electric vehicles, including “more affordable models,” the automaker said in...

4 Best Gaming Laptops (2024): From Cheap to Premium

Choosing a gaming laptop is like putting together a well-balanced adventuring party. You need to look at what you...

Court Fixes May 17 To Rule On Detained Binance Executive’s Request For Bail

Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has fixed May 17, for the bail hearing...
- Advertisement -

Aggrieved Aspirants Petition APC, Demand Cancellation Of Ondo Gov Primary Election

Three aggrieved candidates who took part in the Ondo State All Progressives Congress (APC) governorship primary election last week...

FG Secures Discounted Prices For CNG

The Tinubu-led Federal Government has announced a concessionary gas pricing for mobility Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). The Director/Chief...

Must read

Noncompetes Are Dead—and Tech Workers Are Free to Roam

More US workers will soon be free to leave...

Tesla Promises ‘More Affordable Models’ and a ‘Cybercab’

Tesla is accelerating plans for a lineup of new...
- Advertisement -

You might also likeRELATED
Recommended to you