Photo Credit: Bill Lapp, via Flickr. Licensed CC.
Photo Credit: Bill Lapp, via Flickr. Licensed CC.
Photo Credit: Bill Lapp, via Flickr. Licensed CC.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A first-ever national study of housing discrimination against same-sex couples has found gay and lesbian couples face a higher risk of discrimination in the private rental market when compared to heterosexual couples. The study was administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the University of Albany, State University of New York.

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The study used nearly 7,000 email test in 50 metropolitan markets across the U.S. between June and October 2011. For each test, two emails were sent to an advertised rental online. The only difference between the paired emails was whether the couple was same-sex or heterosexual.

According to the study, same-sex couples experienced higher levels of unequal treatment than heterosexual couples. Gay male couples experienced higher levels of discrimination that lesbian couples. Unfavorable treatment was measured by the rate of inquiry response and whether the couple was told the unit was available, asked to contact the landlord, invited to see the listing or received any response at all.

Same-sex couples were more likely to receive no response from their email inquiries. States with legislative protections barring anti-LGBT housing discrimination showed slightly more unequal treatment for gay male couples than those jurisdictions without protections. Lesbian couples seemed to experience some benefit in jurisdictions with protections. North Carolina and local governments within the state do not include sexual orientation or gender identity in the state Fair Housing Act or local fair housing ordinances.

“Legislative protections appear not to confer an advantage to gay male couples by protecting them from adverse treatment in this respect,” the study reads. “Several factors could account for this unexpected finding, including potentially low levels of enforcement, housing provider unfamiliarity with state-level protections, or that protections exist in states with the greatest need for them.”

The study also found that adverse treatment for same-sex couples existed in each of the metropolitan areas studies, though no pattern of discrimination emerged depending on metropolitan area size.

HUD has taken steps to ensure fairer housing protections for LGBT people. Recent guidance from the department treats discrimination based on gender noncomformity or sex stereotyping as sex discrimination under the Fair Housing Act. That law does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as protected classes., though a Feb. 3, 2012 department rule requires HUD-funded and HUD-insured housing providers, as well as FHA-approved lenders, to provide equal access without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity and marital status.

Matt Comer

Matt Comer previously served as editor from October 2007 through August 2015 and as a staff writer afterward in 2016.