Law Students Helping Rid the City of Housing Discrimination

Teaming up with MCAD to change the culture
Photo of Professor William Berman
 Professor William Berman, Housing Discrimination Testing Program director

They seemed like a regular family with children, looking for an apartment in the city.

But when the would-be renters called offices of a Boston rental agency, they were refused information about advertised rentals and were steered away from apartments that were not de-leaded. 

What the rental agents didn’t know was that these renters were actually students from Suffolk University Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program posing as renters with children. Based on the results of their housing discrimination testing, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination initiated a formal complaint and investigation into the leasing practices of the offices of Boston’s Prestige Rental Solutions.

MCAD Commissioner Sheila A. Hubbard determined there was sufficient evidence to support the allegations of housing discrimination under state and federal anti-discrimination laws. MCAD entered into a consent decree with the rental agency, which agreed to cease any discriminatory leasing practices, make a charitable donation of $6,000 to Suffolk’s testing program, and send agents to fair housing training.

“I am heartened that Respondent Prestige Rental has agreed to remediate their past conduct through fair housing training and pledged to ensure their leasing practices do not violate Massachusetts law,” said Hubbard. “Real estate companies and others involved in renting properties must abide by Massachusetts General Law Chapter 151B.  This law is specifically intended to combat discrimination against families with young children and to protect the health and safety of the commonwealth’s youngest and most vulnerable residents against lead poisoning from properties on the market that are not de-leaded.”

William Berman, clinical professor of law at Suffolk Law School and director of Suffolk’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program, said Massachusetts’ Lead Paint Statute requires landlords who rent to families with children under the age of 6 to make property lead-safe. A refusal to rent to families with children in an attempt to avoid compliance with the lead paint law is illegal discrimination, he said.  

"We need to change the culture in Massachusetts as to discrimination against families with children,” said Berman. “This type of discrimination is rampant and causes great harm to people who are turned away from their preferred place to live just because of the makeup of their family. Suffolk’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program is at the forefront of the fight against harmful discrimination. We are conducting testing, bringing enforcement actions, training thousands in their fair housing rights, and conducting academic studies related to fair housing.” Berman noted that the program’s housing discrimination test evidence routinely uncovers discrimination against families with children. Prospective tenants often are told that a unit isn't available to them because of their kids or the presence of lead paint.

Hubbard was assisted by MCAD staff including Commission Counsel Simone R. Liebman, Attorney Advisor Ethan C. Crawford, Director of Housing and Testing Eric Bove, and Chief of Investigations, Heather E. Hall.

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Greg Gatlin
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Michael Fisch
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