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Appeals Court Denies Safe Harbor for Roommates.com

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the appeals-court-says-don't-be-a-dick dept.

The Courts 253

Mariner writes "The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals denied Roommates.com Safe Harbor status under the Communications Decency Act in a lawsuit brought by the Fair Housing Councils of San Fernando Valley and San Diego. Roommates.com was accused of helping landlords discriminate against certain kinds of tenants due to a couple of questions on the Roommates.com registration form: gender and sexual orientation. 'Though it refused to rule on whether Roommates.com actually violated the Fair Housing Act, the Court did find that it lost Section 230 immunity because it required users to enter that information in order to proceed. As Judge Alex Kozinski put it in his opinion, "if it is responsible, in whole or in part, for creating or developing the information, it becomes a content provider and is not entitled to CDA immunity."'"

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Look, I just wanted a normal male roommate (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152003)

You don't have to get all pissy about the "no fags or bitches" part of my flier.

Re:Look, I just wanted a normal male roommate (1)

spun (1352) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152085)

I know what you mean. Who would have thought my entry of "No crackers," "No uptight straight squares," and "Only lesbian vegan socialist womyn of abundant girth need apply" would cause such a controversy?

Re:Look, I just wanted a normal male roommate (2, Funny)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152127)

By the way, is that room still available?

Re:Look, I just wanted a normal male roommate (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152205)

[...] lesbian vegan socialist womyn [...]
Where can I find results for that search criteria? :)

Re:Look, I just wanted a normal male roommate (1)

winkydink (650484) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153277)

I'm sure that you'd have little problem in the Castro district of San Francisco

Looks like an appropriate decision (2, Insightful)

Apple Acolyte (517892) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152041)

I don't see how a content site that collects confidential information that may be used in a screening process can possibly be considered a common carrier under anyone's definition of the term.

Re:Looks like an appropriate decision (0, Redundant)

Secrity (742221) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152535)

They don't have Common Carrier status.

Not at all an appropriate decision (5, Insightful)

jmorris42 (1458) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152661)

> I don't see how a content site that collects confidential information that may be used in a
> screening process can possibly be considered a common carrier under anyone's definition of the term.

You are correct... as far as that reasoning goes. But the CORRECT ruling (yea, good luck getting a sane ruling in CA) would have been to toss the case on the grounds that neither the "Fair Housing Act" nor the CDA pass Constituitional muster. The CDA fails on 1st and 10th Amendment grounds and the FHA on 10th. So it should have been tossed back into state courts.

Listen up pinheads, people have the right to be wrong. At least 'wrong' from your point of view. Since Stallman already has claimed Freedom Zero call this one Freedom -1. For if you claim the right to tell someone they are wrong and must agree with you, you are asserting yourself as their master. And the odds approach 100% that sooner or later everyone else is going to think one of your cherished beliefs/practices is 'wrong' and impose their will on you. And having given up the principles of Freedom you will have no moral argument to offer as to why you should be left in peace.

Tolerence isn't allowing people you agree with to do things you approve of, it is permitting people you don't like to do things you disapprove of so long as they don't use force or fraud against others. Yes that means yo have to tolerate the intolerant sometimes.

Re:Not at all an appropriate decision (1)

gmack (197796) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152841)

That's partially true. I have all the rights in the world to dislike you for whatever reason I want but I should not and do not have any right to deny you what sould be rightfully yours.

I cannot deny you a job because I don't like your non work related lifesyle.

I cannot deny you a place to live over things that don't directly affect me.

And that is why it's only fair that certain questions cannot be asked of potential tennants.

Re:Not at all an appropriate decision (2, Insightful)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152949)

I cannot deny you a job because I don't like your non work related lifesyle.

Am I the one hiring you? Then I can deny you a job for any reason I please. Example: I am denying you a job right now (assuming you don't currently work for me, which I think is likely :). You can't make me hire you, regardless of why you think I'm not.

I cannot deny you a place to live over things that don't directly affect me.

Am I the one renting or selling you the place? Then I can in fact choose not to rent or sell for any reason I please.

You do not have a fundamental human right to allocate my resources for me.

Re:Not at all an appropriate decision (2, Insightful)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153249)

But the CORRECT ruling (yea, good luck getting a sane ruling in CA) would have been to toss the case on the grounds that neither the "Fair Housing Act" nor the CDA pass Constituitional muster.


Unless a novel Constitutional argument was made, that would have been an incorrect ruling by the appeals court, since, any merits of the past Constitutional arguments that have been made and rejected by the Supreme Court aside, the most common Constitutional arguments against those acts have been made previously, and rejected by the Supreme Court, and all lower courts in the US are bound by those decisions.

The CDA fails on 1st and 10th Amendment grounds and the FHA on 10th.


Leaving aside the question of whether the Supreme Court ought to rule that, that is clearly, in both cases, contrary the precedent that is binding on the court that made this ruling. That being said, I think you are way off base in both cases, whether you go buy precedent or by any fair reading of what the Constitution likely "intends" ignoring "errors" inserted by the court (e.g., in the case of the FHA, on the one hand it is well within the clearly established, by precedent, parameters of the Commerce Clause, and on the other is within the intended vast sweep of the 14th Amendment grant of power to Congress that the Supreme Court narrowed to virtual nothingness—it being the only grant of power to Congress that the Supreme Court has essentially held gives Congress no more power or discretion to enforce the provision that it claims to give Congress the power to enforce than simply to do whatever the Supreme Court would command anyhow without Congressional action.)

While other provisions of the CDA may violate the Constitution, the safe harbor provision, when applied to insulate against liability under other laws, is clearly within the Commerce power.

Tolerence isn't allowing people you agree with to do things you approve of, it is permitting people you don't like to do things you disapprove of so long as they don't use force or fraud against others.


No, "tolerance" just means "permitting people to do things whether or not you approve of them". You apparently think that the proper boundaries of what people should be tolerant of is everything not involving force or fraud as you interpret those, but that is not a Constitutional command or universally accepted moral precept, just your personal opinion.

YouTube is screwed (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19153291)

The same reason will be used to deny YouTube safe harbor under the DMCA.

Roommates.com (2, Interesting)

Mazin07 (999269) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152043)

I don't claim any prior knowledge of roommates.com at all, but... 1. Were these fields optional? I wouldn't expect something like orientation to be a required question. The judge says it is, but I want to hear from somebody who's used the site. 2. Are all people who look at applications considered landlords, or only some of them?

Re:Roommates.com (2, Informative)

john83 (923470) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152179)

1. Were these fields optional?...
I realise that no one reads TFA, but even the summary says, "...the Court did find that it lost Section 230 immunity because it required users to enter that information in order to proceed."

Re:Roommates.com (2, Insightful)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152303)

Well at least thats better than not reading the comments one is responding to:

The judge says it is, but I want to hear from somebody who's used the site.

Re:Roommates.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152345)

D'oh.

Re:Roommates.com (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152319)

I bet it was optional. Does anyone know if it was optional?

Re:Roommates.com (1)

Adambomb (118938) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152477)

Because slashdot summaries are always factually accurate in every way shape or form, and never distort or misrepresent the content of the article.

oh wait =)

Probably why the parent wanted to hear from a USER of the site, not parroting. However, I'd be amazed if a ruling like that went through with the initial premise being exactly the opposite.

Re:Roommates.com (1)

Lockejaw (955650) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152443)

1. IIRC, yes, these fields are optional. Actually, I'm pretty sure the only required fields are those that have to do with location. Your contact info doesn't go on your profile -- you exchange it through private messages.

2. They aren't necessarily landlords. Roommates.com splits profiles into "I have a room" and "I'm looking for a room." Those in category two might be landlords, but they are often renters looking to fill a vacancy in their rented house or set up a sublease.

Re:Roommates.com (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152863)

They aren't. If you try to leave it blank, you get bounced with a message that you have to go back and fill it in.

Re:Roommates.com (1)

saforrest (184929) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152617)

Were these fields optional?

I'm not sure it would make a legal difference whether they were optional or not. Prospective employers are legally prohibited from asking for photographs from job applicants, presumably to avoid problems discrimination.

Imagine if this were weakened to "employers cannot demand but may request photographs from job applicants". It wouldn't be too long until anyone needing a job who isn't a member of Suppressed Minority X is sticking photographs on their résumés. Then the lack of a photograph can be correlated tightly with membership in Suppressed Minority X, and the discriminating employer wins.

Excellent Ruling (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152099)

Just because people want to know this information so that they can discriminate, doesn't mean they should be permitted to.

The rule of law - it's not always what you think, but it's something we need.

Re:Excellent Ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152267)

Wait, so you're saying that I should not be allowed to discriminate my choices for a roommate based on those criteria or any other protected class?

What about religion? Or race?

Re:Excellent Ruling (2, Insightful)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152269)

If I'm a landlord, then I should not be able to discriminate based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc, but DUDE... this is for ROOMMATES. Although discrimination is wrong in principal, individuals sharing a house or apartment with one another really need to make sure they're compatible. I'm a lesbian... so I might be willing to share my apartment with a gay man, but certainly not a straight one. Likewise, a straight woman really might be uncomfortable sharing an apartment with me. What's wrong with helping people to filter out their choices?

Re:Excellent Ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152333)

" I'm a lesbian"
[David Attenborough voice]
and now, observe the flurry of desperate /. members rushing to make DigitalSorceress their friend...

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

sangreal66 (740295) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152497)

If you read the summary, the court hasn't ruled whether or not it is illegal to discriminate against roommates on these grounds. They are only saying that Roommates.com doesn't qualify as a common carrier because they force people to enter the fields.

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152509)

Exactly. This law was created so that if I can pay rent I can find an apartment / house without the landlord or seller denying me because of race, gender, etc.

Now I have a 3 bedroom 2 bath house that I bought so I can one day grow into it with someone (Plus resale value on a 1 bedroom house isn't great). In the mean time it'd be great to have someone help pay my mortgage and split the bills. Even 1 roommate at $400 / month + utilities is going to cut my bills in half and cut my mortgage payment by 1/3. We both get something out of it.

How far does this law go? In California Alcoholism can be considered a protected class. Can I not kick out (or screen) a roommate because he's an alcoholic? What about a fat guy that has bad BO? This is ridiculous. As many have said before this isn't apartments.com this is roommmates.com

Here's hoping for those 2 hot bi-sexual women and my right to ask explicitly for them.

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152761)

How far does this law go? In California Alcoholism can be considered a protected class. Can I not kick out (or screen) a roommate because he's an alcoholic?

Well, you are confusing Behavior with Status.

An alcoholic is an alcoholic even when they don't drink.

You can refuse to permit drinking in your house, or loud parties. But if someone is an alcoholic and is, say, in AA, then they should be able to rent from you. Just like I can refuse to rent to someone who smokes in my house, but not refuse to rent to someone who smokes - if they want to smoke in their car or at work or at bars, this is none of my business.

Personal question, if you don't mind (2, Interesting)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152565)

Why? As a straight man, I'd be more comfortable in general living with a lesbian than a straight woman I didn't want to get involved with.

Re:Personal question, if you don't mind (3, Funny)

glwtta (532858) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153107)

As an even straighter man, I'd be even more comfortable living with 2 or 3 lesbians!

(I think that might be the reason they started requiring gender in ads for roommates...)

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

Achromatic1978 (916097) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152593)

individuals sharing a house or apartment with one another really need to make sure they're compatible. I'm a lesbian... so I might be willing to share my apartment with a gay man, but certainly not a straight one.

Wow. Just, wow.

As you said yourself, "roommate", not "potential mate". So why would a straight male "certainly" not be an option? Next you'll be saying that a girl with a boyfriend, and a single male should not live together either. After all, her unavailability to him is, y'know, an incompatability.

Or heaven forbid that time I had a gay roommate. Yikes. Another scary incompatibility.

Although discrimination is wrong in principal

You have the perfect right to choose your roommate. But let's not go pretending your discrimination is somehow acceptable because you're doing it for some moral cause of "compatibility".

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

fireman sam (662213) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152613)

If I am a landlord (and I am), I choose who will stay in my house. If I don't like you because of some generalization, or because of my preconceived notion of you I don't have to rent the house to you. Of course I am not going to say "You didn't get the house because you are *whatever*", I am going to say "You application was unsuccessful as there were other applicants more suitable".

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152729)

Again, you are subject to the laws of the state, county, and municipality you reside in.

If you don't like the law, change it. But many counties, states, and municipalities have expressly made laws making such discrimination illegal.

For example, in my city and county (but not the state owned university) it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of someone's gender and sexual preference, no matter what your objection may be.

Don't like it? Fine, change the law, but don't ask a judge to rule otherwise.

I don't like renting to bigots, but sadly, should I rent a room where I live, I would have to do so, if it was their religion.

But I can refuse to rent to people who listen to country music, for example, which is a much more effective screen.

Judges rule based on the law, not your desires.

Re:Excellent Ruling (0)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152665)

If you don't like the law, change it.

But a judge rules on the law, not what you want the law to be.

Just because you have good reasons to discriminate, doesn't change the basic fact that you want to discriminate, nor does it change the law which states you can't do it.

Don't like it? Fine, you know where city hall is - or at least how to Google it.

Re:Excellent Ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152947)

If you don't like the law, change it.

Sheesh, how many times you gotta say that over and over? If you aren't careful, you might start sounding like Dubya in his quest to "Stay the course in Iraq".

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

MenTaLguY (5483) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152919)

Out of curiousity, what difference does being a lesbian (over just generally being a woman) add in this case?

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

Gospodin (547743) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153117)

Although discrimination is wrong in principal, individuals sharing a house or apartment with one another really need to make sure they're compatible.

Wrong in principle, right in practice. That's what I love about modern doublespeak!

Look, the argument you've made completely disproves the notion that discrimination is wrong in principal. It isn't, any more than censorship is "wrong in principal". What you believe, which is what almost everyone believes, is that certain types of discrimination are wrong. Other types are neutral, other types are OK, and yet other types are positively encouraged! (If discrimination is truly wrong "in principal" then the whole concept of meritocracy goes out the window, for example, and I suspect most of us here on Slashdot are in favor of at least an approximation of meritocratic rewards.)

Funny story about censorship: I just received last night an email urging me to complain to CBS News about firing a commentator who allegedly criticized the Iraq war (which I find a little hard to believe on the face of it - or wouldn't most CBS commentators have been fired by now? anyway...). The same email mentions that it took CBS 2 weeks to fire Don Imus for saying some bad things, but only 2 days to fire the commentator. Of course, they consider the latter censorship, but the former? Of course not! Perfectly justified! Not censorship at all! This is complete doublespeak.

Re:Excellent Ruling (2, Insightful)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152371)

I would agree with you if this was about landlords, but this is a site for finding roommates. You should be able to choose the type of people you live with. If a woman doesn't want to live with a man because that makes her uncomfortable, that should be her right. Same with a homosexual and a fundamentalist Christian, a man with very fundamentalist parents and a woman, a man and a homosexual man, etc. A person should not be forced to room with another person that makes them uncomfortable, even if those reasons are bigoted. The site gives its users options to help them find roommates that meet this requirement.

Re:Excellent Ruling (0)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152859)

Sorry, your rights are restricted by law.

Don't like the law, change it.

But don't complain if a judge properly rules that the law is what it is.

If you don't want to rent to certain people - including roommates - then live alone.

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

Rycross (836649) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152959)

As far as I know, the law doesn't prevent me from discriminating on any grounds when I'm looking for a roommate. I'm perfectly fine with rejecting people for any reason I wish until I find someone I am comfortable living with. I believe that other posters mentioned a shared living exemption.

A landlord, however, is not allowed to discriminate on certain categories, such as race, age, sexuality, or religion.

The whole gist of this case is that landlords were utilizing a site specifically designed for finding roommates (not tenants) to discriminate against possible tenants.

So no, my rights aren't limited by the law. Hell, the judgment just said that roommates.com doesn't get an exemption; they don't even say if they have broken the law yet.

Oh and I do live alone, thanks.

Re:Excellent Ruling (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152993)

When you have no idea what you are talking about you should STFU. Hint: the law does not say what you think it does.

Very bad ruling (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152479)

It has always been standard that for arranging things like roommates, dates, marriages, etc, that being able to not only select the gender and sexual orientation of the other party or parties is normal. It's not even considered discrimination. Remember, this is for a roommate arrangement (very personal). It is not for a landlord/tenant relation (strictly business).

I would also suggest that selecting a roommate, date, or lifelong partner based on their religious belief (or lack thereof) is equally personal and not considered discrimination. Maybe ... just maybe ... race might be going too far for roommates (but not for dates and marriages).

And we do not need any such law; never did; never will.

Re:Very bad ruling (1)

Shados (741919) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152527)

Totally agree. Man, I can just imagine whats next. Dating sites not allowed to discriminate by gender! That would be AWESOME. /sarcasm.

Re:Very bad ruling (4, Insightful)

XanC (644172) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152711)

I'd just like to point out how the word "discrimination" has been hijacked. Discrimination is a good, useful, and necessary thing. Whenever you make a choice about something being better than something else, that's discrimination. You want and need to discriminate.

For particular reasons, discrimination based on certain factors (race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) for certain purposes (housing, voting, employment, and public services) has been made illegal. Any other kind is perfectly legal.

Here, you've assumed that any kind of discrimination is bad. You're talking about illegal discrimination.

Re:Very bad ruling (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152895)

It has always been standard that for arranging things like roommates, dates, marriages, etc, that being able to not only select the gender and sexual orientation of the other party or parties is normal

It used to be standard to stone women - not men - when one man accused the woman of adultery - even if she was innocent.

It also used to be standard to allow slave owners to break into our houses in pursuit of escaped slaves, even if we lived in states where slavery was illegal.

Don't like the law? Fine. Change it. But don't ask a judge to rule against the law.

Me, I refuse to rent to people who aren't Pastafarians.

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152501)

But I would still discriminate upon seeing the person in question. No court will be able to prevent discrimination like that. I see you and I don't like you, thus I will not be livin with you under one roof.

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152935)

Actually, there are ways to enforce such laws, using potential roommates to prove discrimination. People have gone to jail for such violations before.

As I said, don't like the law, then change it. But don't ask the courts to do your dirty work, when the law is what it is.

I've had friends who rented to someone who seemed fine, but who ended up - true - trying to axe murder them. She seemed totally normal and one day she went berserk and started hacking at people's doors and paintings - luckily the cops were nearby and they had phones in some of the rooms.

There is no such thing as safety, and bias is not defensible in law if the law states it is illegal. Don't like the law? Fine. Change it. But don't blame the courts for doing their job.

Re:Excellent Ruling (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153007)

Well, the wonderful thing is that I am not part of YOUR legal system. Anyway, there are millions of ways to go around this 'law'. By the way, if I had to always go and change every single law I didn't like, I wouldn't be doing what I do, I'd be a politician or a lawyer. I'd have to have a full time job changing the laws. It is much more energy efficient to leave the making of the laws to the government, it's their job to do nothing except coming up with new and exciting laws on how to screw the individuals and instead of fighting every law, it is more efficient to just go around it, but in a way that doesn't get you crashed. Do you agree that it is a less time consuming, more energy efficient way? You know, lie. Lie about this or that, figure out a way to get out of that situation and just plain lie. If we all had to go by the law every time and the only choice would have been to go change laws, we would have wasted a whole bunch of valuable time that could be used for other things, like posting here.

We couldn't run an ad... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152151)

We couldn't run an ad that said no Portuguese, but ummm...no Portuguese.

I can see how the judge could rule that way: sorta (2, Insightful)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152163)

While I kind of find the judge denying safe harbor a bit harsh, I do sort of appreciate the whole "required" versus optional form data. When I fill out forms for this and that on the web, I really get annoyed when every gorram field is required. I understand that the more complete the info, the better able to provide services, but honestly, forcing email or phone on peole is just likely to either a)turn users off from going any further or b)cause users to enter fake info.

I'd much rather have missing fields than false info... it's EASY to parse for missing fields, but false info can really pollute or skew things. I know that on "stop bugging me" registrations for some software, I'll just enter F***@you.com or some other random made up address that expresses my displeasure at being forced to provide such information. To whomever has the email address "F***@you.com" I apologize for the extra spam I've caused you to receive from the likes of Real Networks, Apple, and others. :)

Re:I can see how the judge could rule that way: so (1)

MalleusEBHC (597600) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152339)

If you want to make a fake email without worrying about anyone ever receiving email because of it, RFC 2606 [rfc-editor.org] defines reserved domain names. Thinking about all the emails that have bounced after being sent to blowme@example.com just warms my heart.

RFC 2606 (1)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152641)

Except for the forms that recognize those reserved domains and prevent you from entering addresses under them.

I used to use fake addresses on sites that required them before allowing you to download their otherwise free software. Then I came across one that bothered to do some test (probably a DNS lookup) and it rejected garibaldi(a)babylon5.earthforce.mil (for example) as an invalid domain.

Now when I use a fake address, it is at domains that not only allow you to do it, but also allow you to retrieve mail sent to them in reply. It's great for those sites that e-mail you an expiring link to access what you came to get.

Re:I can see how the judge could rule that way: so (1)

honkycat (249849) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152391)

I think it's a good ruling. The safe harbor protects groups who clearly have no hand in what information is collected or how it is used. Since this website appears to have a hand in that (at least by gathering potentially discriminatory information), they need to demonstrate that they're using it in a manner consistent with the law. That is best done by letting the case go to the next stage. Note that the court hasn't said that there's anything illegal going on, just that the site doesn't get a free pass out of the court proceedings.

I don't know what the problem is... (4, Insightful)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152167)

gender and sexual orientation.

Whenever you see ads in the paper for folks looking for roommates, you always see several things:
Female looking for female.

Male looking for female or male roommate

Gay man looking for roommate,

etc...

What's wrong with entering that information so you can be matched up with someone that you'll be compatible with?

If you were unknowingly matched up with a gay man, and you're a devout Evangelical Christian, boy, there's going to be some rough patches! The same goes with women who would feel really uncomfortable with rooming with a guy.

Geeze! Sometimes the law isn't realistic.

Re:I don't know what the problem is... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152211)

If you were unknowingly matched up with a gay man, and you're a devout Evangelical Christian

I smell sitcom!

Re:I don't know what the problem is... (1, Insightful)

gad_zuki! (70830) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152251)

I'm really getting tired of these "fair housing" groups' bullshit. I cant see whats wrong with "Female looking for female." Wasnt this the same group that sued Craigslist? Sounds like they're just interested in the money. As a tenant looking for a roommate I now have less rights because I cant specify male or female. Sexual orientation I can see as being iffy (such things should be talked about in person, not publically posted on forums for privacy reasons), but gender? You've got to be kidding me.

Re:I don't know what the problem is... (3, Informative)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152537)

It's okay to discriminate if you're living with the person, or your another renter. However, it's not okay for a landlord to decide they don't want to rent to gays, or unwed mothers, or young men who might tear the place up.

What the court ruled is that it's not okay for a *landlord*, who is not living with the people, to discriminate on the basis of religion, race, creed, ethnicity, gender, etc. etc. So they are saying using an online roommate-finding website does not make it okay for a landlord to discriminate.

That's not what they're doing (2, Interesting)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152607)

The fair housing groups are going after landlords not people looking for roommates. Craigslist was sued because it allowed ads from landlords specifying gender and religion.

Fair housing doesn't always apply (4, Insightful)

djtack (545324) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152363)

The fair housing act doesn't always apply, there are times when it is legal to discriminate based on gender etc. http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FHLaws/yourrights. cfm [hud.gov] There is an exemption for owner occupied buildings (i.e. you want to rent out that extra bedroom in your house). Also if you are just looking for a roommate, you are not the landlord so it would similarly not apply, in fact I would think this would be protected under the 1st amendment as freedom of association.

Re:Fair housing doesn't always apply (2, Insightful)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152741)

Still, one of the major ills of our society is that more and more of our important freedoms are being removed and replaced with specific "exemptions" in law. Why should my needs have to fit into one of their silly "exemptions"? Who are they to restrict my life so? Seriously, this is beginning to get ridiculous.

I'm of the opinion that every time our elected leaders decide to make a new law, they should be required to remove a minimum of four existing laws from the books. Period. This would force our fearless leaders to start having to look at what they've already done to us, in order to decide if what they want to do now is worth the effort.

Now, I admit that there are enough useless laws already on those books that this would take a while to have any noticeable effect, but at least we'd start clearing out some of the crap.

Re:I don't know what the problem is... (4, Informative)

pluther (647209) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152561)

Actually, the law is realistic in this case.

If you are going to be living with the person, then the fair housing act does not apply to you.

So, if you're actually looking for a roommate, then you can discriminate based on any criteria you want, including age, sexual preference, race, religion, hobbies, whether they'll sleep with you or not, etc.

The judge did not rule that they cannot ask about such things. The ruling was simply about Safe Harbor status. That is, since the information was required from the person looking for housing, and a landlord used it to find a tenant, and was found to have discriminated based on information furnished to them by roommates.com, then roommates.com could be found to be complicit in the discrimination. They could avoid this by making such fields optional, or by only passing along protected information to owners who will be sharing living space.

At least, that's my take from the article. I'm not a lawyer either, but I've been involved in a few court cases involving landlord/tenant law.

No more retirement communities? (1)

Roger W Moore (538166) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152865)

So since retirement communities are typically not lived in by the landlords (assuming a rental not purchase model) does this mean that they can no longer discriminate against younger people wanting to move there? Or is there an exemption for that too? If so then how is it OK for older people to decide to not want live with younger people but not vice versa?

Re:No more retirement communities? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19153285)

AFAIK, it is not legal to deny a young person the right to rent a room in a retirement home (assuming it is not a medical institution). HOWEVER, the young person must agree to all current non-discriminatory rules. Rules that would include things like:

  - $500/month fees to cover cleaning your apartment, maintaining the bowling alley, purchases of new equipment to help older folks with whatever funky issues they might have, funding the live-in medics, etc etc.
  - No sound over XX dB at any time.
  - No visitors except between 7 am and 5 pm.
  - No people under the age of 18 unless they are related to you (I believe this would be allowed, since under 18 you are not a person by law, per se)
  - No high speed internet
  - No walking on the grass
  - No TV stations except "Wheel of Fortune", etc, etc...

Basically, sure, you want to agree to those rules, and also realise that the tenants in that building will continue to pass more like it, and that your minority vote won't change that, you're welcome to move in.

Most young people don't want those rules so they don't move in. Ergo, the issue is resolved.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152669)

"If you were unknowingly matched up with a gay man, and you're a devout Evangelical Christian..."

You reveal your bigotry. No religion endorses homosexuality.

SWF seeks SWF ads already illegal? (2, Insightful)

steve_ellis (586756) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152941)

At least according to the Volokh Conspiracy http://volokh.com/archives/archive_2007_05_13-2007 _05_19.shtml#1179259134 [volokh.com] :

But both under California law and under federal law, it's illegal to tell prospective roomates about one's roommate preference, even when it's legal to actually discriminate based on that preference. It's illegal to put out an ad saying "Single white female seeks same to share apartment" (that's expressing a preference based on race and marital status), or "lesbian pagan seeks same" (preference based on sexual orientation and religion) -- and it's illegal to say that to people in person.

This does seem pretty ridiculous, and clearly not very many people get in trouble for placing such ads, but there is some case law supporting it. In the roommates.com case, since they not only encouraged placing such statements, but seemingly also more-or-less required it, they were exposing themselves to liability. Plus, since they have much deeper pockets than your typical "SWF seeks same", they were much more likely to be taken to court.

this is kindda goofy (4, Insightful)

superwiz (655733) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152171)

Since the site's purpose is clearly to find roommates and not tenants, you should have more latitude in what kind of questions you can ask. When you accept a roommate, you do much more than engage in landlord/tenant relationship. Finding a roommate is a process of creating a household. And anyone should be able to choose what kind of household they live in.

Re:this is kindda goofy (2, Insightful)

ender81b (520454) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152469)

Did you RTFA? The courts decision wasn't about IF asking these questions violated the fair housing act, it was if the safe harbor exemption could be applied. The court ruled it couldn't, since it asked some very specific questions with regards to sex (protected) and sexual orientation.

Re:this is kindda goofy (1)

lawpoop (604919) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152473)

The difference arises when people are using the site in ways other than for "finding roommates" or "building a household", no matter what the site says about what you are supposed to do with it.

So yeah, if you are an 18 year old girl looking for housing in a new city where you will be attending college, go a head and discriminate against creepy 36 year old guys. You're allowed to decide who you want to live with

However, if you are a landlord, and you don't want to rent to first-time renters, gays, unmarried couples, blacks, or a group of 20 year old frat boys, you are no longer "finding roommates" or "creating a household", you are doing housing discrimination. That's wrong, disallowed or illegal, no matter if you are using interviews, walk-throughs, or online websites to do it. I think the only discrimination you can do is the ability of the tenant to pay. You do this with deposits or credit checks and co-signatories.

I don't find it goofy at all. Makes perfect sense to me.

Re:this is kindda goofy (1)

Solandri (704621) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153011)

However, if you are a landlord, and you don't want to rent to first-time renters, gays, unmarried couples, blacks, or a group of 20 year old frat boys, you are no longer "finding roommates" or "creating a household", you are doing housing discrimination. That's wrong, disallowed or illegal, no matter if you are using interviews, walk-throughs, or online websites to do it. I think the only discrimination you can do is the ability of the tenant to pay. You do this with deposits or credit checks and co-signatories.
So what then does roommates.com have to do with any of this? If the distinguishing factor is the intent of the person using the service, does that have any bearing on roommates.com other than perhaps attempting to filter out landlords from using their service?

Put another way, say I sell screwdrivers. The vast majority of people use my screwdrivers to fix things by driving in screws. But if some people use my screwdrivers to break into cars, should I be insulated from the lawsuits of car owners who were the victims of theft?

Yes someone should have to pay for the wrongdoing, but that person should be the one committing the crime. Dragging the vendor into this sounds precisely like what the safe harbor provisions were meant to prevent. That's what seems goofy about this. Nobody is disputing that what the landlords did was illegal. What's at issue is whether we can ask if roommates.com did anything wrong.

Re:this is kindda goofy (1)

SydShamino (547793) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153185)

Put another way, say I sell screwdrivers. The vast majority of people use my screwdrivers to fix things by driving in screws. But if some people use my screwdrivers to break into cars, should I be insulated from the lawsuits of car owners who were the victims of theft?

If you forced everyone who entered your store to give their name, address, and a list of the valuables they kept in their car, and you passed that info out to anyone who bought a screwdriver from you, then no you shouldn't be insulated from the lawsuits.

Re:this is kindda goofy (1)

kabloom (755503) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153133)

From TFA:

The Judge notes in a series of footnotes that past responses have included, "The female we are looking for hopefully wont [sic] mind having a little sexual incounter [sic] with my boyfriend and I [very sic]" and "I am looking for asian/spanish persons to share the apartment." Some of the qualifications that appear in this section might also violate the Fair Housing Act...

Does this kind of request for a roommate violate the Fair Housing Act? I sure hope not -- that just doesn't make any sense.

Oh boy! Hatecrimes R Us! (2, Insightful)

superbus1929 (1069292) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152195)

So when some redneck moron finds out he's staying with a gay guy because roommates.com had to change things to continue to be protected by Section 230 and he therefore didn't know, and inevitably kicks the everliving shit out of him, does that mean Roommates.com is also responsible for the shit-kicking?

It'll happen (1)

iknownuttin (1099999) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152489)

So when some redneck moron finds out he's staying with a gay guy because roommates.com had to change things to continue to be protected by Section 230 and he therefore didn't know, and inevitably kicks the everliving shit out of him, does that mean Roommates.com is also responsible for the shit-kicking?

You know there will be a lawsuit along that vein.

The other thing is, I know a few rednecks and a few gay guys. The gay guys, at least the ones I know, spend all their time in the gym, eating right, and living a healthy lifestyle.
The rednecks, on the other hand, smoke, eat fatty salty crap, and the only exercise they get is curling 12oz cans of Bud.

My bet is on the gay guy in a fight.

Re:It'll happen (2, Funny)

ral8158 (947954) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152567)

spend all their time in the gym

There is a reason we do this, and it isn't fitness.

Re:It'll happen (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152597)

You forget, rednecks use tire irons, trucks, 2x4's, buddies and shotguns in their fights.

My moneys still on the fat redneck with high cholesterol.

Re:Oh boy! Hatecrimes R Us! (1)

pecosdave (536896) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152531)

as far as I'm concerned the court system that said Roommates.com couldn't ask that info should be responsible.

Blast from the past? (1)

Caspian (99221) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152203)

Wait. The COMMUNICATIONS DECENCY ACT? The act that was supposed to keep the kiddies away from Intarweb pr0n?

Wasn't that struck down, like, in the 1990s?

Re:Blast from the past? (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152289)

Uh. Parts of the CDA were struck down. Not all of it was, and the safe-harbor provisions certainly weren't.

Umm, why is that bad? (4, Insightful)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152207)

If I'm looking for a roommate, why shouldn't I be able to filter for gender and sexual orientation? For that matter, maybe I'm a racist jerk and don't want black or asian roommates. Isn't that my right, regardless of how silly it might seem to someone else?

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152367)

One could say the same thing about looking for a tenant. I know guys who own investment property and simply refuse to rent to asian families because, according to him, they all dump cooking scraps and oils and shit down the drains which clogs and breaks them (and he then has to pay to fix it). Is this racist? Well, it's certainly an over-generalization.

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

0100010001010011 (652467) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152427)

Yes. This is racist, now he can put in the contract that anyone found dumping shit down the drain will be responsible for cleaning fees. That'll cover his ass, but he's in a world of trouble if he's looking to say "No Asians"

No, one couldn't (1)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152455)

You don't have to live with a tenant.

Re:No, one couldn't (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152675)

I live in Australia. Evicting someone here is next to impossible. Only the UK is harder I hear.

Good, it should be (1)

Rix (54095) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152851)

Removing someone from their home should be an extremely difficult task, regardless of the reason.

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152619)

He should take a security deposit and check for damage before giving it back, when the tenant exits. Just because someone ISN'T asian, doesn't mean they will not do the same thing (will not dump oil and cooking scraps into the sink.) I rent places out and personally I am only biggotted about two things: can you fucking pay on time and will you keep the place in order, so that the neighbours don't complain. Though I understand how someone can be totally racist, what else is new?

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

QuantumG (50515) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152723)

I hear that dumping massive amounts of food scraps and oil down the sinks every day for 6 months will just completely destroy the property. It will smell so much it is unrentable, and the only way to fix it is to completely replace all the waste water plumbing.. you can't possibly take a security deposit big enough for that.

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152891)

That's nonsense. There ain't nothing that a good sewer snake wouldn't be able to take care of. And/or lots of Drano.

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

ignavusinfo (883331) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153123)

that really depends on the size of the snake: grease is a *huge* nightmare; this is why restaurants have grease traps. i've seen video tapes of (the insides of) sewers before they've been cleaned and the drains outside the average take-out chinese place are not pretty -- quantifiably worse than outside, say, a pizza shop. this doesn't imply anything other than more grease is generated as a by-product of the cuisine. as a landlord (at least where i live) you have to suck up and deal, either providing preventative maintenance (and the drano comes in handy here) or by not being a landlord at all.

mini rant: my two cents is that the "not be a landlord at all" option should be considered by more people who take it on. as a renter i'm not just paying your mortgage instead of mine because you provide a roof. maintenance and upkeep (and snow removal!) is a service that i'm paying for and expect. the landlords who think it's all "wait for the check to come in" don't get it and should get into some other line of work.

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

vidarh (309115) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153221)

Nonsense. I used to live in an apartment building where the family below us kept dumping food and oil down the drain. Every day. They did have to get plumbers out every few months, but it never took much work to clear things out, and over the years we lived there smell was never an issue except for right at the time when it clogged up if they didn't get a plumber out quick enough, but once the system was cleared it was fine.

Re:Umm, why is that bad? (1)

graphicsguy (710710) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152829)

Maybe he could install a garbage disposal. Problem solved.

What's legal here (B.C.) (2, Insightful)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152253)

The B.C. Residential Tenancy Act [gov.bc.ca] allows for three sorts of discrimination: age, when it's a property specifically for older folks. Disability, when it's a property specifically for disabled folks. And just about anything else (particularly gender and sexual orientation) when there are shared kitchens and bathrooms involved.

Little else matters. If you can pay the rent (and come by the money lawfully), they can't turn you down.

...laura

Re:What's legal here (B.C.) (2)

DigitalSorceress (156609) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152297)

Now, THAT's the way it should be.

I swear, I sooo should move to Canada.

Re:What's legal here (B.C.) (1)

roman_mir (125474) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152795)

Little else matters. If you can pay the rent (and come by the money lawfully), they can't turn you down. - only this is complete B.S. If I don't like you I don't have to let you in at all. All I have to do is say that someone else has gotten it first.

Re:What's legal here (B.C.) (1)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 7 years ago | (#19153059)

True. "We don't like you" isn't part of the legislation. But if what they really meant was "We don't rent to queers", or something similar, you are protected.

...laura

Re:What's legal here (B.C.) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19152897)

Did you even RTFA you linked to? In the exemptions form discriminations clause it allows for discrimination when "The owner of the accommodation will share a bathroom or kitchen with the tenant"

Seemingly verrides Carafano v. Metrosplash.com (4, Interesting)

michaelmalak (91262) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152511)

Critically, this overrides what had been the common interpretation of Carafano v. Metrosplash.com [wikipedia.org] which was that form fill-in websites had the same immunity as free-text websites (and ISPs). This roommates.com decision says "no" -- matchmaker.com had immunity only because a) the offending information (Carafano's home address etc.) was posted in free-text fields of the form and b) posting such information violated matchmaker.com's terms of service.

As regards violating the Fair Housing Act, there is a shared living exception [hud.gov] . It seems to me that if roommates.com added a "shared living" checkbox to its form, it could AJAX-open the additional fields regarding gender and sexuality, and thus avoid falling afoul of the FHA. Roommates.com would still not be covered by the Section 230 exception of the Communications Decency Act, but it wouldn't need it.

Re:Seemingly verrides Carafano v. Metrosplash.com (2, Insightful)

Solandri (704621) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152889)

I think the important factor in this case was that the gender/orientation information was required in order to proceed with registration on the site. TFA says a free-form response stating the same info would have been acceptable.

This then presents a simple legal solution for roommates.com which from a practical point of view is no different from the current site: Just make the options male, female, and unspecified. People can continue to search for male/female roommates (or unspecified if you don't care), but because roommates.com is no longer requiring this information they would still fall under the safe harbor provisions. Of course in practical use, 99% of the people using the service are going to filter out "unspecified" entries so nothing is actually going to change. But our world is full of silly little things like mattress tags which have become required by law.

What the hell (4, Insightful)

Lithdren (605362) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152559)

How on earth is it Roommates.com's fault is LANDLORDS are abusing the system to discriminate? Be like looking someon up on Myspace, and denying them a job because of some pictures put up. Is it Myspace.com's fault?

I hope they are atleast suing the landlords that were abusing this info. Thats the problem with information on the net, its accessible to everyone, weather they should have it or not. I understand nailing landlords to the cross for abusing this info, but I totaly fail to understand how this is the websites fault for supplying the information. Its even submitted by the people themselves...its not like it wasn't wanted to be known..

Re:What the hell (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#19153067)

How is it Roommates' fault? Because the FHA prohibits publication of discriminatory information, and not just discrimination itself.

I Don't See the Problem (2, Insightful)

openldev (925511) | more than 7 years ago | (#19152603)

This seems like perfectly decent information to ask. Personally, I would like to know the gender and sexual orientation of my roommate before I go into an apartment deal with them. I don't think it is the site's fault that people are abusing the information. Yes, they required the information. However, if you don't want to give it, then don't sign up!
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