The Seattle Office of Civil Rights said it has uncovered evidence of rental-housing discrimination at 13 properties, including large, sleek new developments in Ballard and South Lake Union.
More than a dozen Seattle rental properties — including large, sleek new developments in hot neighborhoods like Ballard and South Lake Union — engaged in housing discrimination, the city says, citing results of sting operations last year.
Property owners and their agents treated prospective tenants differently based on race, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity, said the Seattle Office of Civil Rights (SOCR), which contracted with the Fair Housing Center of Washington to have “testers” pose as potential renters.
The SOCR filed illegal-discrimination complaints earlier this year with the Washington State Human Rights Commission against the owners of 13 properties, including AVA Ballard and Neptune in South Lake Union.
Together, the 13 properties contain more than 2,800 rental units, according to the city’s rental-housing database.
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Twelve of the 13 property owners have agreed to settlements that include training agents on fair-housing practices, posting fair-housing notices and paying thousands of dollars to compensate the SOCR for the tests and a fair-housing campaign.
The settlements were reached before the Human Rights Commission made any findings in the 12 cases and aren’t admissions of wrongdoing by the property owners.
The SOCR carried out 124 tests overall, focusing on four groups of people protected by fair-housing laws, and reported finding evidence of discrimination in more than half.
Testers reported disparate treatment in 64 percent of 42 tests related to race, 67 percent of 43 tests related to national origin, 63 percent of 30 tests related to sexual orientation and 67 percent of nine tests related to gender identity, said the SOCR.
The testers kept track of what information property owners and their agents provided and what questions they asked. African-American testers, for example, were shown fewer units, quoted higher prices and told more frequently than white testers about criminal-background and credit-history checks, the tests demonstrated.
The matched pairs of tests had similar rental profiles in every respect except for their race, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the SOCR.
“Unfortunately, housing discrimination is not a thing of the past, but a reality for too many people in Seattle,” Mayor Ed Murray said in a news release. “These test results tell us that we still have work to do to share information with landlords on their responsibilities, and with tenants, so they understand their rights.”
The SOCR made available to The Seattle Times complaint and settlement papers for eight cases. The agency didn’t provide papers for four cases because those have been settled but not formally closed, said Elliott Bronstein, a spokesman. The SOCR’s complaint against Neptune Apartments is still under investigation, Bronstein said.
The SOCR’s complaint against The Corydon, an apartment and town-house complex near University Village, says an agent told an African-American tester that a one-bedroom unit would be $2,300 a month and that it would be available in one week.
Within 90 minutes of that interaction, the same agent told a white tester that the unit would be $2,000 and that it would be available immediately, according to the complaint.
Three months later, a Corydon agent quoted a price of $1,825 to an African-American tester and $1,700 to a white tester for the same unit, the complaint says.
Tests at AVA Ballard uncovered similar treatment, according to the SOCR’s complaint against that property. In one instance, an agent told an African-American tester about two units priced at $1,855 and $1,730. Within 90 minutes, the same agent told a white tester about four units priced at $1,850, $1,730, $1,670 and $1,425.
When a transgender tester and a non-transgender tester visited Verse Seattle in the Central District within a half-hour of each other, the transgender tester was told there were no units available, the SOCR found. The non-transgender tester was told about two units, according to the SOCR.
“These test results are not isolated incidents. They demonstrate patterns of behavior that have profound impacts on people’s lives,” SOCR Director Patricia Lally said.
The SOCR has offered to meet with the property owners and their agents to evaluate their practices, the agency said. Bill Hinkle, executive director of the Rental Housing Association of Washington, has agreed to partner with the SOCR to promote fair housing among its members, who are property owners and managers, he said.
The eight settlements provided to The Seattle Times show the SOCR recouping $19,200.
Billy Pettit, senior vice president at Pillar Properties, which manages the Corydon for MGP 44, LLC, disputed the SOCR’s findings “based on the fact that the testers did not ask for the same criteria in their apartment search.”
“In particular, the testers conveyed differing interests as it pertained to their desired move-in dates,” he said in a statement.
“Our company utilizes a robust revenue management software that provides us with a dynamic pricing model based on a number of variables, including lease terms, move in date, availability and asking rates in the local market. In the case in question, the leasing specialist quoted different prices due to the fact that the testers were asking for different criteria.”
Pettit said the Corydon settled with the city because “the time and cost associated with fighting this claim was not in our best interest.”
Kerri Fulks, a spokeswoman for Verse Seattle, owned by PUR Welch Plaza LLC and managed by Pinnacle, said no potential renters were discriminated against in any way.
“Our community embraces Seattle’s diversity by maintaining a welcoming environment in which to live, work and play,” Fulks said in a statement.
A spokesman for AvalonBay Communities AVA Ballard declined to comment about its case.
The Fair Housing Center didn’t immediately return a request Friday for more information on how its testers operate.