A fair housing organization in Boston has brought a lawsuit that accuses several local real estate companies of illegal discrimination in advertising on their Web sites.

The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston said advertisements that used such wording as “professionals only,” “no undergrads please!” and “no security deposit required with good credit and stable employment” violated federal and state laws that protect people against discrimination in housing, according to news reports.

Federal laws prohibit discrimination in housing on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, family status, or national origin. Housing-related advertising that discriminates against prospective renters or home buyers on the basis of those protected classes would be illegal.

The lawsuit is eye-catching because its allegations of housing discrimination involve online, rather than newsprint rental advertisements. Newspapers generally screen advertisements for potential problems while a lawsuit over Web site advertisements may be the first of its kind.

The Fair Housing Center of Greater Boston is a private nonprofit organization that combats housing discrimination in the greater Boston area.

Housing segregation remains a pressing problem in Metro Boston, according to researchers who presented studies on the subject at a conference in January. Overt discrimination in real estate markets is one of various theories about why such segregation exists, according to a statement issued by the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

“We know that the problem is more than money,” David J. Harris, director of the Boston fair housing organization and a co-author of one of the studies, said at the time. “Realtors, lenders, cities and towns, community representatives, and the state Department of Community and Housing Development must all play a part to combat Metro Boston’s persistent racial segregation.”


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