How to Prevent Accidental Fair Housing Violations
Fair Housing laws have changed how REALTORS® do business, ensuring their clients are not experiencing discrimination for things like their age, gender, ethnicity, etc. REALTORS® should go the extra mile in researching and learning about Fair Housing violations, not only to hold themselves to the highest standards in their practice but also to educate their clients as well. To help understand the bigger picture as it pertains to Fair Housing, let’s jump right in.
Fair Housing Laws | A Quick Introduction
The origination of Fair Housing goes all the way back to 1968, right when the Civil Rights Act was signed. When riots were taking over the country due to Martin Luther King’s assasination, there was a growing need to help young military veterans secure housing without experiencing discrimination. Thus, the Fair Housing Act was born and began to gain more traction in the following years. You can read more about the history of this Act on our previous blog here. Today, this Act helps protect people from being discriminated against for their race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and/or disabilities.
Fair Housing Violations | What You Can’t Say
After you’ve brushed up on the history of the Fair Housing Act, you’ll want to understand how this Act directly affects your day-to-day. A professional REALTOR® is going to want to be aware of what they are and are not allowed to say to their clients. We’ve pulled some helpful information from this blog at Realvolve that outlines specific examples of what NOT to say to prevent any accidental Fair Housing violations.
Race, Color, and National Origin
This is the biggest no-brainer. Don’t describe the residents of a neighborhood by racial or ethnic terms. Don’t even look up the demographic breakdown of your area. It’s not information you need to know.
You’re allowed to say “places of worship nearby,” but that’s about it.
Do NOT use church names (“near St. Thomas Synagogue”), not even something generic like “near a synagogue.”
While it’s okay to refer to that extra downstairs living space as a “Mother-in-law suite,” it is NOT okay to say it would be “perfect for a professional female.”
The former is a commonly used term to describe a separate living space that could be lived in by anyone, mother-in-law or otherwise. The latter is straight-up gender discrimination.
It’s fine to describe accessibility features (“wheelchair accessible”). What’s NOT fine is any language that excludes someone because of a disability—so you can’t say “not wheelchair accessible.”
You also can’t say that a property is “ideal for an active, healthy person,” because that discriminates against someone who isn’t able to be active. However, you can list features like “walking trails” and “restaurants within walking distance.”
Like the other items above, it’s fine to use inclusive language (“children welcome”) but nothing exclusive (“no children,” “great for empty nesters”). If your language implies that a home would be great for a particular type of family—if you imply some sort of preference—it’s a no-go.
Fair Housing Violations | The Penalties
Being aware of how you can violate the Fair Housing Act is a great first step. Now, what about the penalties for a violation? That’s an excellent question, and one you’ll definitely want to know the answer to if you’re practicing real estate. The Fair Housing Project in NC wrote about the HUD publishing the latest civil penalties for violations that occur after April 6th, 2020. You can find a direct link to the document from the HUD on The Fair Housing Project’s website.
In their article they stated: “Under these revised amounts, someone can be assessed a maximum civil penalty of $21,410 for his or her first violation of the Fair Housing Act. Respondents who had violated the Fair Housing Act in the previous 5 years could be fined a maximum of $53,524, and respondents who had violated the Act two or more times in the previous 7 years could be fined a maximum of $107,050.”
Staying up to date on the latest real estate news, trends, and laws is vital to being a great REALTOR®. Don’t forget to check out our blog weekly, as we highlight helpful tips, up-to-date news, and event information!