Utah Disability Law Center says housing discrimination an issue in the Beehive State

Posted at 9:57 PM, Aug 14, 2015
and last updated 2015-08-14 23:57:24-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- A team of secret testers is catching landlords in Utah discriminating against potential tenants, according to the Utah Disability Law Center.

They run a program to ensure apartment complexes are following the rules under the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of things like race, gender, disability and religion.

“We’ve found a number of instances of discrimination, both subtle and blatant, across a number of different protected classes all around the Wasatch Front,” said Nick Jackson, a Fair Housing attorney.

Three years ago, the center received a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to organize tests to determine whether or not Utah’s housing facilities are complying with federal law.

Since Jackson began working at the center in 2014, they’ve filed 20 complaints for HUD to review because of the findings in their tests.

“I was surprised at kind of the deviousness of the efforts to discriminate,” Jackson said. “Despite Salt Lake’s reputation as kind of a liberal haven, the evidence shows that housing and discrimination is a real problem here.”

Currently, they have 150 people working with the center to test Utah’s landlords.

FOX 13 News was able to sit in on one of the center’s tests, Friday.  A tester pretending to be a single mother of two called a West Valley City apartment complex to inquire about a unit. All the responses were documented. Later, another tester posing as a woman with no children will call the same complex. The responses will then be compared.

“Despite Utah’s family-friendly image, there are a number of tenants that get turned away for having kids,” explained Jackson.

In one recent case, the owners of an apartment complex settled for $1,000 with HUD after testers found they were discriminating against disabled residents who needed a service or companion animal.

Currently, they have several other cases pending.

“We don’t live in a post-racial society,” Jackson said. “Things are not all better, and we do have a lot of work to do.”

While the grant is set to expire at the end of 2016, Jackson is hopeful that it will be renewed.

“I’m sure that the more that we expand, the more violations we’ll find," he said.