A New Home for Haters – Online Home Sharing Platforms: A Look at the Applicability of the Fair Housing Act to Home Shares

Allison K. Bethel*

In 2018, we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the Fair Housing Act which outlawed discrimination in residential transactions. When the FHA was passed, the home search process was very different. Fifty years ago, most people searched for housing by viewing listings in newspapers and other printed publications or perhaps used a realtor. Today, most people use the internet to search for housing. Home sharing, where all or part of a home is rented on a short-term basis, has become very popular since 2008 when Airbnb entered the market. It has become a multimillion dollar business and proponents see great potential in it to ease housing and income shortages. As home sharing has grown in popularity, racism has reared its ugly head and reports of dis- crimination against minority guests have become all too frequent. Complaints of housing providers refusing to rent based on the race, sexual orientation, religion, or other protected characteristics of prospective guests have gained widespread attention through social media and threaten to undermine the future of the concept.

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* Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the John Marshall Law School’s Fair Housing Legal Clinic, Chicago, Illinois. J.D., University of Florida; B.S., Northwestern University. Prior to joining JMLS in 2008, the author served as Director of Civil Rights for the Florida Attorney General’s office and litigated fair housing cases on behalf of the state. Prior to joining the Attorney General’s office, the author worked in private practice as a civil trial lawyer and defending fair housing cases.
The author gratefully acknowledges the support of John Marshall colleagues Professor Debra Stark, mentors Professors Michael P. Seng and F. Willis Caruso, Raizel Liebler, Head of Faculty Scholarship Initiatives, and research assistant Benjamin Lee.

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