Can You Spot Illegal Steering?

When choosing topics to cover in my new fair housing book, a common practice known as “steering” easily made it to the top of my list. Why? Most landlords and tenants know that turning away an apartment applicant based on a protected characteristic such as race, religion, or disability is illegal. But not everyone realizes that it’s possible to violate fair housing laws even when a landlord chooses to rent to a particular applicant.

Steering generally refers to a situation in which a landlord or broker rents to you but doesn’t offer you the same choices as other applicants (of a different race, for example), or tries to guide or encourage you to look elsewhere (even if the landlord ultimately agrees to rent to you). The problem with steering is that people who experience it as part of their apartment search find their housing choices artificially and unfairly limited, which federal law aims to prevent.



Hopefully, you won’t experience steering when looking for an apartment. But it’s important to be aware of what constitutes steering so you can identify it and possibly take action. The federal government outlines four main types of steering that are in violation of fair housing law:

1. Discouraging you from renting at a building.

Be suspicious if you hear a landlord or broker try to convince you to look elsewhere when everything about an apartment seems to fit the bill.

2. Exaggerating drawbacks or not informing you about desireable features.

If a landlord appears very negative about his own building and how you would feel living there, it’s a potential red flag.

3. Telling you that you wouldn’t be comfortable living among the current tenants.

What you think of your future neighbors and how you might fit in is your concern, not your landlord’s.

4. Trying to assign you to a certain floor or section of a building.      

Landlords or brokers who don’t tell you about all the vacancies that fit your parameters may be attempting to segregate their building based on protected characteristics.



For more information and specific examples of steering, check out my article about steering for before your next apartment search.
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