New York Times Adopts New Policy on Real Estate Ads

By Kerwin, Ann Marie | Editor & Publisher, August 28, 1993 | Go to article overview

New York Times Adopts New Policy on Real Estate Ads


Kerwin, Ann Marie, Editor & Publisher


Stems from 1989 lawsuit under the Fair Housing Act

As part of a lawsuit settlement, the New York Times has adopted a new policy to police its real estate classified ads to avoid violations of fair housing laws.

The lawsuit, filed in 1989, alleged that the newspaper had violated the Fair Housing Act by continuously publishing racially discriminatory advertisements for housing.

The suit charged that the majority of the real estate ads published by the newspaper since the Fair Housing Act was enacted in 1968 used only white models to depict residents, and excluded the equal housing opportunity logo (a graphic of a house underneath which are the words "equal housing opportunity").

Almost none of the models featured in the thousands of display ads in the real estate section were black, despite the fact that a significant portion of of the city's population is black.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits the publication of any real estate advertisement that intends to indicate or "that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin."

The Times' new policy will require that people pictured in housing advertisements be proportionally representative of the metropolitan area's multiracial population.

Census statistics, included in the settlement, show that the population of New York's metropolitan area is 70% white, 20% black, and 10% other races.

The suit was brought by four black professionals, and the Open Housing Center Inc., a not-for-profit fair housing organization that works to eliminate discriminatory housing practices. The four professionals, Luther M. Ragin Jr., Dr. Deborah Fish Ragin, Dr. Jerome F. Cuyler, and Renaye Cuyler, were looking for housing. The suit asserted that the ads appealed only to white readers and that the newspaper should be held legally responsible.

During the four-year legal battle, the Times denied any fault or liability, saying the inappropriate ads were created, produced and submitted by third-party advertising agencies and real estate developers, and that the newspaper merely published the ads as submitted.

The newspaper also argued that to require it to monitor ads violates the First Amendment and that restrictions on the advertisements were a violation of the advertisers' free speech rights (E&P, Feb. 9, 1991, P. 18).

However, federal courts ruled against the newspaper, saying no infringement of press freedoms would occur if a newspaper were required to refuse advertisements that "to the ordinary reader indicate a racial preference."

The plaintiffs each will be paid $150,000 by the Times and the Open Housing Center will receive $300,000 worth of free advertising space to support fair housing efforts. The individual plaintiffs said they will donate their portion of the settlement payment to support fair housing efforts by the Open Housing Center and by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

Under the terms of the settlement, the Times will not accept real estate advertising that conveys, through the use of human models or otherwise, discriminatory messages. The newspaper agreed to conduct quarterly reviews of the advertising of regular advertisers. Frequent advertisers who refuse to comply with the policy would be warned and would risk having their advertisements rejected. …

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