Denounced anonymously for “seeking Christian roommate” request

by Walter Olson on October 23, 2010

A woman “posted an advertisement for a Christian roommate on her local church’s bulletin board.” Someone who saw it denounced her anonymously to the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan which proceeded to file a civil rights complaint against her to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. Nancy Haynes, executive director of the housing center, calls the woman’s notice “a clear violation on its face;” while the Fair Housing Act does not subject actual choice of roommates to penalties, it forbids advertisements expressing a preference.

The Fair Housing Center of West Michigan might ask for an initial reimbursement of $300 for time spent on the issue and training for the woman, in addition to pulling down the ad, Haynes said.

“Our interest really lies in her getting some training so that this doesn’t happen again,” she said.

[WOOD via Amy Alkon]

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{ 44 comments }

1 Malcolm Smith 10.23.10 at 12:37 am

Suppose she didn’t mention it in the ad. Suppose then, an atheist answered it and, over a cup of coffee, the student explained that she was looking for a Christian roommate. Probably the atheist would be happy not to share with a Bible-basher. But the point is, both have wasted their time and effort because the law was an ass.
Perhaps the ad should have said: “I am a committed Christian and love sharing my faith.” That should alert potential roommates of what to expect.

2 RecentLawGrad 10.23.10 at 1:01 am

Somewhat related: In my jurisdiction, you are allowed gender-based discrimination when the tenant will share either a bathroom or a kitchen with the landlord. Also known as a vast majority of rental situations.

The practical result means men often get passed over due to gender stereotypes (“girls are just cleaner, men are slobs”).

3 DidTheResearch 10.23.10 at 5:09 am

MSA 26.1300(301): “Section 201 does not apply: . . . (b) To the rental of a room or rooms in a single family dwelling by the owner or lessor if he or a member of his family resides therein.”

4 Ted Frank 10.23.10 at 7:12 am

Perhaps the ad should have said: “I am a committed Christian and love sharing my faith.” That should alert potential roommates of what to expect.

Fair Housing Act authorities have interpreted similar strategies in other cases as impermissibly attempting to deter families with children from applying for housing. Whether they’d be more flexible in the roommate situation is questionable.

5 John Rohan 10.23.10 at 8:36 am

What bothers me the most is that they feel they need to “get some training” for the woman, which sounds an awful lot like communist style political re-education.

I would far prefer that they are trained in meaning of the US Constitution instead.

6 Le Mur 10.23.10 at 9:27 am

…you are allowed gender-based discrimination when …
Government ‘droids = kindergarten playground supervisorettes.

What bothers me the most is that they feel they need to “get some training”
“Training” is a euphemism for harassment.

“They have to satisfy these tastes in the face of astonishing, hypocritical laws (licensing laws, lottery acts, etc. etc.) which are designed to interfere with everybody but in practice allow everything to happen.” — Orwell

7 sheila firmin 10.23.10 at 10:12 am

Excuse me but have we given up our right to choose whom we associate we.? Does not roomate indicate a private residence? Have we gone so far as to allow the government to invade mans home and castle, with the notion that one can not use ones own perfrences when offering lodging within your own personal domicle? Wake up America, this isn’t about fair housing this is about your liberty to choose, it is about taking your powers of making decision and putting it into the hands of those who are destroying this country from within.
“Our interest really lies in her getting some training so that this doesn’t happen again,” <<<TYRANNY

8 captnhal 10.23.10 at 10:28 am

Whatever happened to separation of church and state? How can the government legally interfere with something posted on a church bulletin board? Some religions place restrictions on who their members may associate with.

9 Chris Hoey 10.23.10 at 2:47 pm

It wasn’t a act in accord with Christian principles when the craven coward filed an anonymous complaint against a fellow member of the church with the authorities. She or he has a lot to atone for, or to explain on judgment day for this despicable act.
As to the idiot bureaucrats pushing the complaint, as Christ put it on the Cross, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.”

10 Moonrider 10.23.10 at 3:06 pm

The 1st Amendment’s “freedom to associate” also includes the freedom to NOT associate. When the hell will government (at all levels) obey the Constitution? Not until We, the People, make it do so!

11 Chris 10.23.10 at 3:06 pm

What part of ” prohibiting the free exercise thereof”? does the Michigan Department of Civil Rights not understand?

If I were the woman I would tell them to “F’ off” and “sue me”.

12 jkoerner 10.23.10 at 3:15 pm

This law seems like it is ripe for constitutional challenge. There have been other situations where the court has said the government cannot prohibit advertising of otherwise legal activities (like gambling services) even when they are illegal where they are advertised. In this case the feds are restricting speech about an otherwise legal activity. If it is legal to discriminate roommates on the basis of sex, religion, race, etc. then it seems to me there is a 1st amendment protection to advertise such preferences. I think this law has stuck around because it is generally been used against people who cannot fight back. Hopefully this christian defense charity that is backing the renter here will take this case to the conclusion and finally shut up these fair housing thugs.

13 Doug 10.23.10 at 7:07 pm

Once again, its shut up and be ruled. The actions by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights are wicked. The next Gov and legislature should begin defunding that department as soon as they assume power.

14 Amazed 10.23.10 at 8:21 pm

Surprised they’re only sending her to a re-education camp. Thought for sure they’d seize her house, and all her possessions as fruit of criminal activity. Good grief.

15 Ps 10.24.10 at 1:21 am

Seems we do live in china after all.

16 Jack Wilson 10.24.10 at 9:56 am

I would like to see this go to the Supremes while we have the Fab Four (Alito,Scalia,Roberts and Thomas) on the bench.

17 Derrick and The Dominoes 10.24.10 at 12:09 pm

I disagree with the government here. I feel that a person should have a right to decide with whom they want to live with. People are a little too politically correct nowadays. She should tell the people who want to educate her to take a flying f**k at the moon.

18 Elroy 10.25.10 at 7:32 am

As I recall one of the many issues that led to the ousting of Brittish rule was the forced quartering of Brittish soldiers.

19 Anonymous Attorney 10.25.10 at 10:10 am

Freedom of association is a crucial right and one that is increasingly under attack. Who is taking the lead in fighting these cases? The Institute for Justice? Anyone else?

20 Jeff 10.25.10 at 11:49 am

Jesus Christ, the hyperbole in these comments is approaching Youtube limits.

New apartment building is erected. Owner puts out an ad. “Apartments available for rent. Christians only.” You’d better believe that’d get the same smackdown. Now, with a roomnate situation there’s room to argue that having to live with the renter should provide some kind of exception, but bringing out the righteous fury is ridiculous. Logic is not on your side.

As I recall one of the many issues that led to the ousting of Brittish rule was the forced quartering of Brittish soldiers.

Do you know what that term even means? Quartering is a building owner being forced to house, feed, and otherwise provide for soldiers out of their own pocket. How does that even compare to willfully renting out a room?

21 gumby 10.25.10 at 1:03 pm

Q: Does the freedom of association include the right not to associate? I am Canadian, and up here that argument has not worked — at least in the context of having to join a union to work at a particular unionized workplace. And how absolute is this right? Can the law never interfere?

Q2: Change it slightly — what if the ad had said:

– no non Christians
or
– no Muslims
or
– no Chinese
or
– no homos
or
-noone with grey hair?

…and what if most ads in the locality had the same terms? No problem?

Q3: Do business have this right of non-association? Can they run, say, a whites only lunch counter?

Q4: It it relevant that the person is offering accomodation in exchange for money, and not simply taking in a guest?

22 Bill Alexander 10.25.10 at 1:22 pm

The pertinent fact is that this is for a roommate, and not a vacant apartment or house. So, no, if I advertise my apartment for rent, I can only use criterion such as income level, number of occupants, pets, etc. and have to do so in a consistent manner. However, for a housemate, I should be able to choose whomever I like, be they limited to midget eskimos with 3 letter names or whatever.

23 gumby 10.25.10 at 1:49 pm

“be they limited to midget eskimos with 3 letter names or whatever.”

Not an example that reflects what the problem is here. Replace with “white person” and the example takes on a bit of a different tenor.

24 Bill Alexander 10.25.10 at 2:22 pm

What is the problem here? If you want a white housemate, what does the government have to say about it? Or if you what a female spouse?

25 gumby 10.25.10 at 2:37 pm

“What is the problem here? If you want a white housemate, what does the government have to say about it? ”

According to the post, apparently little:

“the Fair Housing Act does not subject actual choice of roommates to penalties, it forbids advertisements expressing a preference.”

26 gumby 10.25.10 at 2:37 pm

“Or if you what a female spouse”

Um, what?

27 Jeff 10.25.10 at 2:40 pm

^Random derailment into “If you legalize gay marriage, the government will force you to gay marry!” It doesn’t help your credibility, Bill.

28 gumby 10.25.10 at 2:42 pm

You mean I gay married for nothing?

29 Jack Wilson 10.25.10 at 2:52 pm

I notice that liberals haven’t yet prohibited personal ads from restricting the type of person people want to date.

Why not?

30 Elliot 10.25.10 at 3:04 pm

I, for one, would rather see scumbags advertising or posting signs which said: “No X allowed” without fear of legal sanction. That would be a perfect signal to me not to ever have anything to do with such rotten bigots. It saves time and taxpayer money.

31 gumby 10.25.10 at 3:09 pm

Because herrings are not red.

32 Jack Wilson 10.25.10 at 4:06 pm

gumby, it would seem whatever constitutional principle is in effect for ‘fair housing’ laws would be in effect for ‘fair dating’.

33 Bill Alexander 10.25.10 at 4:09 pm

Actually, in my mind when I mentioned a female spouse, I was thinking from a male’s perspective. I should have been more specific. I just can’t see why you can’t advertise for a specific type of roommate if you are allowed to choose what type of roommate you can have.

34 Maribeth 10.25.10 at 5:16 pm

How can it be a problem to advertise within one’s own church for a fellow church person to live with? It makes no sense. So what, if she’d had the pastor announce it, it would have been ok because the anonymous jerk wouldn’t have known who she was?
Getting crazy in this world!

35 SpasticToad 10.25.10 at 5:34 pm

Actually, the government is on the Christian girl’s side. Sect. 503, para. (1)(a) of the Elliott Larson Law of 1976 specifically exempts “the rental of a room or rooms in a single family dwelling by a person if the lessor or a member of the lessor’s immediate family resides in the dwelling.” This applies to the entire Sect. 502. So either there’s more to the story than is being told–which I wouldn’t doubt–or all of the government employees and/or government paid non-profit employees involved are either ignorant of the laws they enforce or guilty of extortion–which I also wouldn’t doubt.

36 SpasticToad 10.25.10 at 6:03 pm

I guess if she lived in an apartment and was trying to sublet, then the exemption wouldn’t apply. The relevant portion of the exemption seems to be specific to “single family dwellings” which, of course, isn’t defined within the act. None of the articles I’ve seen specify what type of dwelling she lives in and simply refer to her accommodations as “her residence”. I bet she lives in an apartment. Now we’re in a gray area–let the shake down commence.

37 Bob Lipton 10.25.10 at 6:52 pm

Spastic Toad, you mean the law is on her side. But what use is having the law on your side when the bureaucrats can’t read the law?

Bob

38 Remi 10.26.10 at 2:01 am

If I were a Malaysian living in the US, would I not be allowed to look for a Malaysian roommate?

If the government is allowed to decide who our roommate can or cannot be, I’d be worried that the next step might be that all searches for roommates will have to be sent to the government and they’ll pick a roommate for you.

39 Jack Wilson 10.26.10 at 8:10 am

One ‘unintended consequence’ ( I use quotes because I’m not sure if its really unintended) of these ‘fair housing’ laws is that have contributed to making housing more expensive and are responsible for part of the homeless problem.

In the good old days, it was common for people to rent out rooms to borders to get extra income. You would see ads that read ‘ Room for rent : seeking sober Christian gentleman’. Once you could no longer select who lived in your house, a lot of this housing dried up. Does some 60 year old widow want to risk violating federal law OR risk opening her home to people she is not comfortable with?

40 gumby 10.26.10 at 12:31 pm

Remi:

If you were a Malaysian Muslim in the US, and saw all the room for rent notices said “White Christian only”, then what?

And as long as you’re careening willy-nilly down that fallacious slippery slope, you may as well be worried that the government thugs with submachineguns will show up at your door with a terrorist with ebola, bad breath and stinky food preferences that they force you to shelter.

Jack Wilson — really? A ban on discriminatory advertising of housing services made housing more expensive? Really? ….Really? D’ya have some sort of study that says that? I’d be interested in having a look, really.

41 No Name Guy 10.26.10 at 1:53 pm

Gumby

How dense are you?

Lets see, nice person has a house. Has a few extra rooms since the little ones moved out. Spouse passed on. Hmmm…needs a few extra bucks to make ends meet. Figures, hey, I can rent a room to a nice quiet person who I get along with, one kind of like me…one I’m comfortable with.

But, no…..said person can’t do that, since they’re not allowed to. Nope, can’t ask for a nice person to fit their bill (be it a older white lady, older black lady, quiet non-drinking Christian man who doesn’t listen to satan music, rock for the rest of us, even, gasp, a devout Muslim who strictly follows halal practices or could it be a Jew who knows never to use the same pan, spoon, fork, spatula to prepare / touch both meat dishes and those containing cheese).

Because, yes, there is NEVER any reason other than bigotry why someone might find those considerations critical to the question of will they or will they not rent a room in their home to a boarder.

So, an otherwise affordable housing option (renting a room within a house) is not available. Renter, who otherwise would have a relatively cheap place to live (compared to getting an apartment) is now stuck getting an apartment. Increased demand for apartments tends to drive up prices (you ARE familar with supply and demand there Gumby, aren’t you?)

42 Rob 10.27.10 at 7:57 am

I have a spare room and I want to advertise for a flatmate.
As I appreciate both beauty and intelligent conversation, I’d like to advertise for a female flight attendant that has completed a uni degree.

Would I fall foul of the law for this? If so, which is illegal;
1.Gender, 2.Occupation or 3.Education ?

What if I also specify a hair colour preference? I prefer natural brunettes, it’s OK if they’ve dyed blonde though.

43 Jack Wilson 10.27.10 at 8:46 am

No Name Guy, thanks for the assist. I couldn’t have explained it better myself. You could get a name for yourself, someday.

44 Lady law 10.27.10 at 1:34 pm

Once the government begins telling me who I can or can’t allow to live in my home, I’m moving to…well, where in this world are we still allowed personal freedoms?

As has already been mentioned, the code doesn’t apply to private dwellings for many of the reasons enumerated above. It is not unusual that someone would want to share their home with someone who has common values – regardless of what those values are. Just like the college pot-head wouldn’t want to share their home with a 90 year old grandma who wanted to nag about the dangers of marijuana use, a Christian should be able to to indicate that they would prefer to share their home with someone who shares similar values. During my years as a law student, I should be able to indicate I prefer a roomate without children and the noise that accompanies them. I could come up with many examples – but I shouldn’t have to.

This woman should let the government do what they want to do, and then stand in court and calmly read the code. She’s fine! (And as for the woman who turned her in – SAD!)

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