Stereotyping, Bias and Equal Housing

by Dan Krell

What comes to mind when you think about equal housing? If you are like many, your first inclination is to think about incidents of racial or sexual discrimination. Unfortunately, however, there are many other forms of bias that have affected (and still affect) some home buyers.

Why do people have bias towards others? Dr. Mahzarin Banaji, Professor of social psychology at Harvard University, has studied stereotypes and bias for over twenty years and has published many studies about the topic. In a past Psychology Today article, Dr. Banaji stated that this area of research has shifted from the outward expression of bias to inward beliefs and stereotypes. She found that even though individuals may outwardly express their acceptance of all people, their beliefs may be vastly different. Does this mean that it is human nature to seek out and perpetuate differences in people?

One suggestion is that our beliefs and internal creations of stereotypes may be a manifestation of societal, cultural, and familial influences combined with an individual’s personal experiences. As we outwardly strive for an equal society with no boundaries, psychological research indicates that we as individuals are a long way from unconditional acceptance of others. In other words, bias and stereotyping may reveal more about us individually than they do about our present culture.

Until we can change the nature of our inward stereotypes and eliminate the outward expression of all bias, we continue to need laws to protect those who are victims of stereotyping, bias, and discrimination. Federal and local laws prohibit discrimination against protected classes of individuals. Federal law prohibits discrimination due to race, color, sex, religion, national origin, mental or physical handicap, and familial status. The State of Maryland adopted the Federal protected classes and added additional protected classes, under article 49B in the Annotated Code of Maryland (COMAR), of martial status and sexual orientation.

Chapter 27 of the Montgomery County Code also protects classes of individuals from discrimination in real estate transactions. In addition to the Federal and State protected classes, Montgomery County law also protects individuals form discrimination due to ancestry, source of income, presence of children, and (effective February 20, 2008) gender identity.

According to a County Council Press Release (Release ID: 07-091), the new Non-Discrimination – Gender Identity legislation, “affirms the rights of transgendered residents of Montgomery County to equal treatment under the law.” Additionally, thirteen states and the District of Columbia (as well as other jurisdictions) have passed similar legislation.

In a real estate transaction, a person’s ability to purchase or rent a home is the only item of significance. Unfortunately, bias, stereotyping and discrimination continue. If you have been a victim of discrimination, you can report the incident to the following: The Department of Housing and Urban Development ( investigates claims of housing discrimination on federally protected classes; The Maryland Commission on Human Relations ( investigates complaints of discrimination based on COMAR article 49B protected classes; The Maryland Real Estate Commission also investigates discrimination based complaints against real estate licensees and brokers, and takes any necessary actions including revocation of licenses; and The Montgomery County office of Human Rights (240-777-8450) investigates housing discrimination complaints filed within the county.

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of February 4, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.