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Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal

Article Title

In West Philadelphia Born and Raised or Moving to Bel-Air? Racial Steering as a Consequence of Using Race Data on Real Estate Websites

Abstract

Current fair housing laws are not entirely equipped to deal with issues of housing discrimination on the internet, particularly the practice of racial steering, where a homebuyer is directed away from certain communities based on racial demographics. Courts interpret these kind of steering claims as requiring a showing of discriminatory intent, yet the way people search for and buy homes online have changed how steering manifests in real estate transactions. Contemporary practices do not fit neatly within the current legal framework, which is why we must revolutionize the way we think about housing law.

This article examines real estate websites, like ZillowGroup and Redfin—two leading companies that are closely intertwined with the practice of industry professionals—and suggests that race data that has been posted on these platforms are problematic. Testing studies show that race information and school quality have been used and are still being used by real estate professionals to steer White homebuyers away from communities of color, thereby reinforcing segregation patterns. The article illuminates issues of online steering within the legal framework of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), Communications Decency Act, and relevant case law. It suggests two recommendations for addressing the use of race data on real estate websites: (1) using discriminatory effect theory as a litigation strategy and (2) amending the FHA to cover online real estate marketplaces.