For Immediate Release - October 28, 2009

Attorney General Martha Coakley Reaches Statewide Settlement with 20 Landlords and Real Estate Agents for Discriminatory Advertisements on Craigslist and Files Suit Against Six Others

BOSTON - Today, Attorney General Martha Coakley's Office reached settlements in 20 cases against landlords and real estate agents across the Commonwealth accused of violating state anti-discrimination laws by making discriminatory statements in rental advertisements posted on the popular classified advertising website ("Craigslist"). The Attorney General's Office also filed lawsuits against six other defendants based on similar allegations. The settlements and lawsuits are a result of a statewide investigation into reports of widespread discriminatory Internet advertising, and involved properties or their owners in seven different counties: Suffolk, Middlesex, Norfolk, Essex, Bristol, Plymouth, and Hampden.

In connection with this enforcement initiative, the Attorney General's Office is also issuing two advisories to provide information and guidance to tenants, landlords, property owners and real estate companies about housing discrimination laws. The Attorney General's Office hopes that this information will help prevent future discrimination against families with children and against recipients of housing subsides, the most common types of prohibited discrimination encountered.

View PDF copies of the Advisories issued by the Attorney General's Office:

"Housing discrimination is a serious problem in Massachusetts. Particularly as more families face tough financial times and have no choice but to rent, landlords and real estate professionals must recognize that the rental market is a regulated industry and compliance with our antidiscrimination laws is among their most important obligations," said Attorney General Coakley. "While we hope that this enforcement initiative will have a deterrent effect, our office will continue to monitor Craigslist and take action against persons and entities that violate the law."

Under Massachusetts law, it is illegal to discriminate against someone because the presence of children might trigger a property owner's duties under the lead paint laws or because someone receives a housing subsidy, such as a Section 8 voucher, to pay for some or all of their rent. The advertisements in question in this investigation include such language as "no children" or "no Section 8," in blatant violation of the law.

The settlements, filed today in Suffolk Superior Court, collectively require the property owners and real estate agents to pay the Commonwealth $18,250, ($8,750 of which is suspended pending compliance with the agreements), attend trainings on state and federal fair housing laws, remove lead paint hazards from the rental units, and prohibit the defendants from placing discriminatory advertisements or otherwise discriminating against any person who seeks or applies for housing because they are a member of a protected class. The agreements also require defendants to advertise any future rental property as "Equal Housing Opportunity" properties, to maintain a record of rental applicants submitted by prospective tenants, and to report all discrimination complaints received to the Attorney General's Office. In an effort to increase awareness of this important issue, defendants also agreed to place over 60 postings on Craigslist informing other Craigslist users that the Attorney General monitors Craigslist for discriminatory advertising and that it is against Massachusetts law to state a discriminatory preference against families with children or against recipients of housing assistance subsidies.

Today, the Attorney General's Office also filed complaints against six individuals who posted discriminatory advertisements on Craigslist and with whom settlement negotiations were unsuccessful. The complaints allege that Alexander Cohen of Saugus, Linheart Smith of Hyde Park, Jason Griffith of South Dartmouth, George Cote of Fall River, Harriet Witkington of Fall River, and David Hanson of Nashua, New Hampshire each violated the Massachusetts Anti-Discrimination Act by placing advertisements on Craigslist that discriminated against recipients of housing assistance subsidies.

Attorney General Coakley's office has also reached out to Craigslist to make the company aware of the scope of the problem of discriminatory online advertising in Massachusetts. Craigslist is one of the most frequently visited websites in the country, with more than 50 million visitors per month in the United States alone. The Attorney General expects to work together with Craigslist in the coming weeks to address this issue and prevent this type of blatant discrimination from entering the stream of commerce in the future.

For additional information on lead paint discrimination and housing discrimination as it pertains to tenants receiving housing subsidies, please visit the Civil Rights portion of the Attorney General's website.

This matter was handled by Assistant Attorneys General Adam Hollingsworth and Patricio Rossi of Attorney General Coakley's Civil Rights Division, Jeanne Veenstra of the New Bedford regional office, and Laurie Frankl of the Springfield regional office, with the assistance of John Harney of the Civil Investigations Division and investigator Jennifer Chaves of the Southeastern regional office.