Landlords in the business of screening potential tenants based on race, disability or family status have been put on notice to comply with the law or face the consequences.
At a news conference on Thursday, the Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center revealed its findings regarding an investigation into rental practices in Jackson and Harrison Counties.
For five months, the center sent people apartment hunting. Applicants with nearly identical salaries and credit histories would answer the same ad with one applicant being White and the other African American. In another scenario, one applicant would have children and the other wouldn't.
Fair Housing Alliance members say the results shocked even some of them.
Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center Director James Perry says a recent investigation found that "7 out of 10 times when an African American goes to rent housing here on the Gulf Coast, they will likely run into housing discrimination."
The discrimination took the form of unreturned calls, denial of applications and higher rent and deposit prices.
Perry says one African American applicant "was told that the rent for that apartment was $579 per month and that there was a $200 deposit. The White counterpart went to see an apartment in that same complex and was told that the rent was $495 per month, a significant difference in the rent amount."
When it came to families, many were turned away whether White or Black.
"What we saw here, the blatancy of it, was so surprising. That people were told straight out 'No, we don't rent to people with children'," Fair Housing Alliance coordinator Deidre Swesnik said.
The Fair Housing Center is not releasing the names of the apartment buildings for now.
"This is your chance," said Perry. "Stop doing it now. But if you continue to do it, the next time it won't be a housing complex with the name taken off, but rather it will be an announcement of a lawsuit against that housing complex."
The Gulf Coast Fair Housing Center is calling for state and municipal fair housing laws to go along with federal laws. The director says there are some stiff penalties for those who break the law.
In fact the center recently held a work shop to help attorneys learn how to better pursue fair housing cases. If you have a complaint you can call 228-867-9113 or email email@example.com.