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Hollywood has made us all-too-aware of the dangers of a bad roommate, thanks to movies like Single White Female, but would stiletto-based homicides even be part of the cinematic zeitgeist if roommate queries could not include a sex-limiting criterion?
Perhaps we'll never know. Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals said that roommate discrimination is legal, ruling that Fair Housing Act (FHA) anti-discrimination provisions do not extend to the selection of roommates, reports Thomson Reuters News & Insight.
Roommate.com, LLC operates an internet-based business that helps roommates find each other. When users sign up, they must create a profile by answering a series of questions about their sex, sexual orientation and whether children will be living with them. An open-ended "Additional Comments" section lets users include information not prompted by the questionnaire. Users are asked to list their preferences for roommate characteristics, including sex, sexual orientation and familial status.
Based on the profiles and preferences, Roommate.com matches users and provides them a list of housing-seekers or available rooms meeting their criteria. Users can also search available listings based on roommate characteristics, including sex, sexual orientation and familial status.
The Fair Housing Council of San Fernando Valley and San Diego (FHCs) sued Roommate.com, alleging that the website's questions requiring disclosure of sex, sexual orientation and familial status, and its sorting, steering and matching of users based on those characteristics, violated the FHA. The district court concluded that Roommate.com's practices violated FHA anti-discrimination provisions. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
The Ninth Circuit ruled that the roommate selection process is protected by the right to intimate association based on "size, purpose, selectivity, and whether others are excluded from critical aspects of the relationship," and that the FHA doesn't apply to shared living units. Because FHA anti-discrimination provisions don't apply to shared living units, the appellate court concluded that roommate discrimination is not unlawful. And since the underlying conduct was not unlawful, Roommate.com's roommate discrimination facilitation did not violate the FHA.
Roommate discrimination may not be nice, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says that it's legal.