“Fair housing” suit against Craigslist

by Walter Olson on February 9, 2006

“The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law sued San Francisco-based Craigslist, claiming that during a six-month period beginning in July, the site ran more than 100 ads in Chicago that violated the federal Fair Housing Act. The committee, a public interest consortium of the city’s leading law firms, said in a federal suit that those ads discriminated on race, religion, sex, family status or national origin.” Craigslist does not screen ads in advance, although it gives readers a way to flag unlawful or inappropriate content for possible removal. According to the complaint (Chicago Lawyers Committee v. Craigslist, PDF format), some of the rental ads carried such damning indicators of putative bigotry as “Perfect place for city single” (unfair to families of eight!) and “very quiet street opposite church” (trying to screen out atheists, are you?), and many are plainly for roommate shares or other live-in situations. Paging David Bernstein! (Mike Hughlett, “Craigslist sued over housing ad bias”, Chicago Tribune/Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Feb. 8)(via Reynolds). Eric Goldman says a similar earlier suit against Roommate.com did not fare well (Feb. 8). For more on the issue of “discrimination” in roommate selection, see Jul. 10-11, 2002; for more on such complaints against Craigslist, see Aug. 10, 2005. (& welcome Instapundit readers).

P.S. As requested, David Bernstein weighs in (Feb. 9), as does Eugene Volokh.

{ 11 comments }

1 Overlawyered 02.09.06 at 11:06 am

“Fair housing” law vs. Craigslist

Roommate preferences, improper mention that a listed property is near churches or synagogues, hints about age or family status: it’s easy to step on a legal land mine when listing your apartment rental. “The Internet…

2 Bill Hobbs 02.09.06 at 4:11 pm

It’s clear that the plaintiffs’ lawyers don’t quite understand what Craigslist is.

Craigslist didn’t run those ads “in Chicago.” It ran them in cyberspace, and they were available online for anyone to read no matter whether they were in Chicago or the other side of the world.

3 Captain Obvious 02.09.06 at 4:16 pm

Can you say “Rule 11,” kiddies?

4 Karen 02.09.06 at 4:52 pm

In 1987, I answered an ad in the NY Times for apartment. The guys said I had it, I paid gave him a $1000 check. We signed papers and all. When I went to move in, so did 35 other people. We were all bilked. By the CraigsList lawsuit reasoning, I could have sued the NY Times, correct?

5 Simple Solution 02.09.06 at 4:57 pm

I think the plaintiffs probably know perfectly well what Craigslist is and how it works. I’d bet that the plaintiffs are more likely trying to Take a Stand(TM) by applying “real-world laws” to the Internet. But there’s a simple defense to this suit: 47 U.S.C. 230(c)(1) (“No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”) End of discussion.

6 David Wilson 02.09.06 at 5:27 pm

One of the grossest intrusions into freedom of contract and association is without doubt the “fair housing” laws. But don’t doubt the longer reaches of jurisdiction created by cyberspace. Nor should you doubt the absurd reaches of these laws. Back in “dead tree” days, the New York Times was once met with a legal challenge for running housing advertising that failed to depict black models.

7 scott 02.09.06 at 8:44 pm

David Wilson is right. In the name of taking away the rights of racists, we have all lost our rights.

And why shouldn’t a racist be able to rent a house to whomever he wants for whatever stupid reason he wants? Does “property” mean anything? I know I’m preaching to the choir, but this is one of those issues that really frustrates me. The left absolutely will not allow an honest debate on the issue and screams racist at anyone who’s against anti-discrimination laws for private citizens.

AT THE SAME TIME THEY CODIFY RACIST POLICIES AT PUBLIC INSTITUTIONS.

8 Ryland 02.10.06 at 3:56 pm

When do they start suing all the “senior communities” or the 55+ developements?

9 Overlawyered 02.19.06 at 11:16 pm

Newspaper defends Craigslist

Dogs defending cats dept.: Denver’s Rocky Mountain News editorially criticizes the “fair housing” complaint against the online service over allegedly improper rental, roommate and property-sale ads (“Meddlers eye online freedom”, Feb. 19)(see Feb. 9)….

10 Overlawyered 03.06.06 at 11:42 am

Suing Craigslist — with your money

The federal taxpayer, by way of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, funnels substantial sums to private “fair housing” advocacy groups for purposes of suing landlords, newspapers, and other likely suspects over alleged housing…

11 Overlawyered 07.18.06 at 9:35 pm

Craigslist classifieds suit

Google, Amazon, AOL and Yahoo are all defending Craigslist in the suit demanding that it censor its housing ads so as to prevent users from requesting “gay Latino sought for roomshare” and the like (Lynne…

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