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Housing Discrimination: The Next Hurdle for LGBT Couples

Why the Supreme Court ruling won't fix this problem

By Richard Eisenberg

LGBT couples can now marry in all 50 states, thanks to the recent Supreme Court ruling, but they can still face housing discrimination — legally — when they try to buy or rent homes in much of the country.

The federal Fair Housing Act doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes. Only 22 states have laws forbidding housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Put another way, just 40 percent of America’s LGBT population lives in states prohibiting such housing discrimination.

And that’s a serious concern for would-be LGBT home buyers and renters, particularly the 3 million LGBT Americans age 65 and older.

Senior Housing Same-Sex Discrimination

“We know that, based on a major national study, 48 percent of older same-sex couples face discrimination when they apply for senior housing. That’s a massive housing crisis for LGBT elders,” says Michael Adams, Executive Director of Services and Advocacy for GLBT Elders (SAGE). “The fact that they’re legally married isn’t going to automatically change that.”

In that striking study by the Equal Rights Center, working with SAGE — Opening Doors: An Investigation of Barriers to Senior Housing for Same-Sex Couples — researchers had testers age 50 and older apply for the same senior housing, posing as part of same-sex and as heterosexual couples. In 48 percent of the tests, those with same-sex spouses experienced at least one type of adverse, differential treatment — including fewer housing options, higher fees and rents and more extensive application requirements than heterosexuals.

And in a 2013 U.S. Housing and Urban Development study of rental discrimination, gay and lesbian couples emailing potential landlords were significantly less likely to get responses than heterosexual couples. “The findings presented in this report provide significant evidence that discrimination exists against same-sex couples in the initial stages of the search for electronically advertised rental housing in metropolitan America,” it said.

LGBT's "Strong Concern" About Housing Discrimination

More recently, a survey of 1,798 LGBT Americans conducted in April 2015 by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate and the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals (NAGLREP) found that 73 percent of them were “strongly concerned” about housing discrimination by real estate agents, home sellers, landlords and neighbors.

NAGLREP founder Jeff Berger told me he’s heard from Realtors whose LGBT clients were not accepted by sellers despite making full-price cash offers. “So there was clearly discrimination and there was nothing that could be done,” says Berger. “We’ve also heard of LGBT discrimination from landlords restricting same-sex couples from renting their property.”

Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate CEO Sherry Chris told me she thinks the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling is “absolutely positive across the board,” citing another of her survey's finding: 81 percent of respondents said if the Supreme Court permitted same-sex marriages everywhere, that would make them feel “more financially protected and confident.”

What the Court Ruling Might Do

Chris added that the Supreme Court decision “is a step in the right direction to start alleviating concerns around housing discrimination.”

Berger is optimistic. “My opinion is there is presently a growing majority of the country that is celebrating LGBT equality and the SCOTUS ruling and I think the trend will continue,” he says “This trend, I hope, will lead to more understanding and acceptance of LGBTs and less homophobia, which in turn will lead to less discrimination in housing for LGBTs.”

Chris believes the court’s decision “will open the floodgates [to same-sex home buyers] to a certain extent.” That may be. In her survey, 69 percent of LGBT renters and 56 percent of LGBT homeowners said getting married would be a motivator for them to buy a home.


Finding an LGBT-Friendly Realtor

They probably ought to look for LGBT-friendly Realtors, and many want to find them.

The Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate survey said 70 percent of LBGT respondents looking to buy homes in the next three years felt it was very important that their real estate agent be LGBT-friendly. “I wasn’t surprised by this,” says Chris. “When you’re making what could be the largest purchase in your lifetime, you want to feel as comfortable as possible with your agent.”

One way to find such agents: NAGLREP has a free online database to help consumers track down LGBT-friendly real estate professionals where they want to buy homes.

What Needs to Be Done

To eliminate housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Adams says “we need enforceable anti-discrimination protections and we need to train the housing sector to comply with the law and welcome LGBT applicants just like anybody else.”

NAGLREP’s Berger would also like to see more state laws and a federal law. “NAGLREP and other LGBT organizations for many years have been requesting LGBT non-discrimination laws be added to the federal Fair Housing Act,” he says. “A few bills have been introduced but have not been successful.”

Says Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate’s Chris: “As a real estate brand, we feel there should never be housing discrimination against anyone. If the best way to handle that is a federal law, I would be in favor of it.”

Photograph of Richard Eisenberg
Richard Eisenberg is the former Senior Web Editor of the Money & Security and Work & Purpose channels of Next Avenue and former Managing Editor for the site. He is the author of "How to Avoid a Mid-Life Financial Crisis" and has been a personal finance editor at Money, Yahoo, Good Housekeeping, and CBS MoneyWatch. Read More
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