An enterprising Twitter user noticed over the weekend that Zillow’s namesake home listings search website contains descriptions of properties and neighborhoods that specifically mention race, including phrases like, “no blacks near me,” and “I will not rent to other ethnicities other than caucasian so please do not inquire if you aint [sic] white.”
Such descriptions would seem to violate the U.S. Fair Housing Act (FHA), the 50-year-old federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing and housing-related services.
Let's take a quick peak at Zillow to see if they're policing mentions of race in real estate listings. pic.twitter.com/koLDapXsXd
— Ed Kohler (@edkohler) March 31, 2019
Zillow’s official verified Twitter acknowledged the thread, which had been retweeted more than 800 times by Monday, and responded to say the company was removing the content.
“Thank you for flagging, Ed,” Zillow posted on Twitter. “We do not tolerate discrimination of any kind on our platform & we’ve removed the content. Our policies prohibit behaving in any discriminatory way on our sites. If we learn that a listing violates our policies, we take actions to remove the content.”
A Zillow spokesperson told Inman the site works to prevent discriminatory content from being published, but occasionally some slips through.
“Zillow Group is committed to ensuring consumers can find a home free from any discrimination or bias in the process and we take every effort to enforce a strict non-discrimination policy that includes taking quick action to remove any such content as we did this weekend,” the spokesperson said. “We work to prevent discriminatory content from getting published, but occasionally some might be missed. We appreciate feedback from our community and work promptly to review and address any claims of improper activity on our sites.”
On Twitter, Kohler showed how easy it was to find these listings, which also included offensive references to pedophilia in one case. Kohler simply limited a Google search to the domain and found the listings by typing in key phrases like “caucasian.” Others, in the comments, followed suit and found similar violations.
Kohler, according to his LinkedIn page, formerly worked for a company called Where to Live, where he specialized in helping real estate brokerages and franchises build websites. Inman reached out to Kohler for further comment and will update if and when he responds.
A Zillow source said in all or almost all cases found on Twitter yesterday, the listings were old and off-market listings that were only able to be found through a Google search and wouldn’t have appeared on Zillow’s site.
The Zillow source also told Inman that the company makes it clear that the onus is on the individual to make sure the listing does not violate the Fair Housing Act and Zillow makes it clear before an individual creates a listing. Zillow has both a Good Neighbor Policy and a Respectful Renting Pledge publicly accessible on their website.
Advertising housing towards one race or excluding others is a violation of the FHA, which was originally passed as part of the country’s landmark Civil Rights Act in 1968. The FHA makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin in the renting or selling of housing.
The renewed scrutiny on Zillow’s compliance with the FHA comes amid other re-evaluations of how online tools can enable discriminatory practices.
Last week, social networking giant Facebook was charged by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) with housing discrimination over its online advertising program.
HUD said that Facebook “unlawfully discriminates based on race, color, national origin, religion, familial status, sex and disability by restricting who can view housing-related ads,” according to a press release posted by the agency.
On Facebook, users could click a button to exclude men or women from seeing an ad and had a search box to exclude people who do not speak a specific language. Users could also draw a red line around areas to exclude for ads.
The difference between Facebook and Zillow, in this case, is that Facebook has specifically created tools that would help agents and advertisers violate the FHA, whereas Zillow just has different fields for an agent or homeowner to fill out, and doesn’t give them options to specifically exclude races or genders.
A spokesperson for HUD did not immediately respond to a request for comment on if it was aware of the thread and if it was indeed a violation of the FHA.
April is Fair Housing Month, a time when, “we celebrate the Fair Housing Act and recommit ourselves to ensuring every American has access to housing that is free from discrimination,” according to HUD.