April is Fair Housing Month, and 2018 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Fair Housing Act being signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. As REALTORS®, we are taught early in our pre-licensing classes that marketing toward or discriminating against the protected classes is illegal. Unfortunately, it can be all too easy to violate the Fair Housing Act (FHA) in our advertising due to inaccurate interpretation or definition of the protected classes, pressure from our clients, or laziness. Essentially, there just isn’t ample emphasis put on the importance of Fair Housing.
The Fair Housing Act, to date, includes seven protected classes: race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
It’s also essential to note that the REALTOR® Code of Ethics protects two additional classes in addition to the FHA-protected classes — sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Fair Housing Act and the REALTOR® Code of Ethics prohibit marketing to or discriminating against the protected classes, even at a client’s request. It’s not just REALTORS® who must5 be aware of the FHA and whom it protects; consumers and our clients also need to know.
Below are a few recent examples of Fair Housing violations I’ve seen in real estate agent advertising. Some are more obvious violations than others. Now more than ever, with the prevalence of social sites like NextDoor and social media advertising, such as Facebook ads, it’s important to be aware of how we advertise our listings and services.
The last protected class in the list — familial status — often needs to be properly defined, as it is the most commonly misinterpreted. According to the Fair Housing Act, “This last term [familial status] refers to the presence of at least one child under 18 years old, and also protects prospects and tenants who are pregnant or in the process of adopting a child.” Note that the federally protected classes under FHA do not protect people based on whether they’re married or single unless they also meet the criteria defined above: “the presence of at least one child under 18 years old [and] prospects and tenants who are pregnant or in the process of adopting a child.”
It’s crucial to educate our clients about the protected clients and how we can and cannot help them sell their house or purchase their next home while navigating the FHA law. Here are some ways we, as REALTORS®, can assist our clients with understanding the protected classes and how the FHA affects them:
- Discuss the FHA and define the protected classes when we meet with potential clients
- Explain what we can and cannot say in our marketing when talking with potential sellers
- Consider with potential buyers how you can assist them with finding a home in the type of neighborhood they want without violating FHA and other resources they can use
- Be a resource for consumers or potential clients who feel they have been discriminated against and have a potential fair housing complaint.
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