A regional nonprofit organization is looking to hire people to undergo training and pose as potential tenants or homebuyers in an effort to sniff out possible illegal and discriminatory housing practices among local landlords and sales agents.

Southeastern Ohio Legal Services (SEOLS), a group that provides free legal aid to low-income residents, is seeking for the operation what they call “testers” from diverse backgrounds to investigate housing discrimination complaints, according to a news release from the organization.

Testers will meet with rental or sales agents and record details of the interaction. The information gathered could be used later to enforce housing laws in legal disputes where testers could serve as witnesses, SEOLS Staff Attorney Peggy Lee said in an interview.

The exact methodology used in tests is confidential, but Lee described the process playing out like “mystery shopping” where testers act as if they’re seeking housing and ask pre-determined questions in attempt to reveal whether property managers are engaged in potentially illegal practices, like not permitting tenants with proper documentation to have emotional support animals. Because of the pandemic, much of testers’ work will be done over the phone.

The initiative was funded through a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Applicants must be at least 18 years old and can’t have prior convictions for fraud, perjury, or any felony offense. Those who apply will be required to pass both a background check and practice test before being given an assignment. Testers are paid to complete the training program and for each subsequent meeting with housing agents. Landlords and property managers aren’t eligible to become testers.

To apply, contact Lee at 740-594-3558 or inquire via email at info@appalachianohiofairhousing.org.

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