I am an African-American and am looking for a new place to live for my family. I am wondering whether I might be the victim of race discrimination. My name is Lakisha and I have a pretty heavy accent – I believe most people can probably tell my race from my voice. I have a white friend from work, Allison, who is also looking to move, and we both called the same property and left voicemails expressing our interest in an apartment for rent at the complex. I left several voicemails over a few days, leaving my name and phone number, but never got a return call. Allison, on the other hand, who called after me and also left a voicemail with her name and phone number, got a return call the same day. When she called again the next day and left another voicemail requesting additional information, she again got a call back right away. I am sure I called the same number Allison did and left my correct phone number, and I know from Allison’s conversation with the manager that the complex has plenty of vacancies. I am suspicious about why the manager did not call me back, but can the simple failure to return a phone call amount to housing discrimination?
We agree, the scenario you describe does sound suspicious, but you need to contact a Fair Housing agency with the tools and expertise to investigate this situation further to determine whether in fact you have been a victim of race discrimination in your search for housing. Here is what you need to know for now, though. The Fair Housing laws prohibit race discrimination in any aspect of a rental transaction, and that includes treating prospective applicants differently who contact the housing provider to inquire about an available property. If you can prove that this manager was returning phone calls from white callers but not from black callers, that would constitute race discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing laws. The challenge in such a case is proving that the manager did not return your call because he or she believed you were black. Your accent and your first name certainly might have signaled your race to the manager, and the different treatment that your white colleague received is certainly troubling, but further investigation might be able to replicate the experience you and your friend had and create an even stronger suggestion that race is at work here. For housing providers, your experience demonstrates the importance of treating all prospective tenants the same, including the way you handle phone calls or respond to inquiries. For more information, contact Project Sentinel Project Sentinel at 1-888-324-7468 or visit our website at www.housing.org.