Redwolf Painter, a senior systems engineer relocating to Seattle from the San Francisco Bay Area, thought it would be easier to rent an apartment here. But after applying for rentals more than a dozen times—and being denied each time—Redwolf began to suspect a more disturbing pattern.
“On the phone, I had a lot of very interested responses,” Redwolf said. “But when I walked through the door, they would tell me that the place was already rented.”
Redwolf is an Alaskan native Two-Spirit person who identifies as trans-masculine. Though no one came out and said it to his face, it was clear that landlords had turned him down out of prejudice.
“They didn’t even try to hide it,” Redwolf said. “One look at me and they were done.”
Redwolf’s experience is not the exception, but the norm. The Seattle Office for Civil Rights performed a round of civil rights testing of housing in 2014 and found that 63 percent of LGBTQ applicants in the test were treated differently by landlords because of their sexual orientation.
Recent surveys have confirmed that bias. According to “Aging in Community: Addressing LGBTQ Inequities in Housing and Senior Services,” a 2018 Rainbow Housing Advisory Committee report commissioned by the City of Seattle Office of Housing, nearly one third of LGBTQ older adults in the study experienced discrimination in housing because of their sexual orientation. The numbers were worse for older transgender persons in the study, with 53.9 percent reporting discrimination when applying for housing.
Sadly, the study showed that most participants—more than four out of five—did not report the incidents or seek legal help. But it does not have to be this way. The City of Seattle has some of the most comprehensive civil rights laws in the nation, with 21 protected classes (including gender identity, sexual orientation, age, and disability) in the areas of housing, employment, and public accommodations.
Specifically, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights enforces Seattle’s Open Housing Ordinance, which bans unfair discrimination in housing, and provides remedies for those affected. A person can file a claim of housing discrimination against an owner, landlord, housing provider, or property management company located in or doing business in Seattle.
The claims are not limited to discrimination when applying for housing. The Office for Civil Rights can also help with discrimination in the terms or rent, deposits and fees, repair requests, and reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.
The Office for Civil Rights does not charge for its services, and it provides accommodations for people with disabilities, language translation, and interpretation to meet and discuss your case with an investigator.
Filing a complaint is simple. You can call 206-684-4500, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.seattle.gov/civilrights to fill out an electronic form. An investigator will follow up with a call or message and determine if your situation can be addressed by our office.
If we pursue your case, our investigators will gather facts from all sides, issue a finding if applicable, and help you seek remedies to address the treatment you have faced. These can range from a monetary settlement to changes in policies, training, and other options.
Discrimination has no place in our city, but it can only stop if you do something about it. Don’t let anyone take away your right to fair housing.
Contributor Roberto Bonaccorso manages communications at the Seattle Office for Civil Rights. The office’s mission is to advance civil rights and end barriers to equity. For more information, visit www.seattle.gov/civilrights.