By Michele McCaskill
Vice President of Risk Management
One of the primary purposes of the Fair Housing Act (Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968) was to protect a buyer/renter from discrimination based on such things as race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. The Fair Housing Act makes it a violation of federal law to discriminate in housing-related transactions. Article 10 of the Realtor® Code of Ethics (Code) reinforces the Fair Housing Act and illustrates the commitment of Realtors® to fair housing. It reads:
REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. (Amended 1/14)
REALTORS®, in their real estate employment practices, shall not discriminate against any person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. (Amended 1/14)
A Realtor® could be found in violation of Article 10 of the Code if he or she, when involved in the sale or lease of a residence, intends to discriminate against a person or group of persons based on any of the protected classes outlined above. Sometimes, even an unintentional act could be construed as a violation of the Code. Realtors® should be careful to offer equal professional services to every client and not indicate any preferences or limitations when communicating with clients and customers and when marketing a property or group of properties.
Specifically, when advertising properties, make sure that your marketing does not express a preference that a particular buyer be of a specific racial, ethnic or age group, or of a certain familial status. For example, when adding remarks to the Matrix system, you should avoid phrases that imply that a particular home is perfect for “empty nesters,” “single individuals,” “families with small children” or “married couples.”
CarolinaMLS staff monitor Matrix for potential fair-housing violations. When certain words and phrases are flagged as a potential violation, staff removes the offending language and contacts the Realtor®.
Staff encourages Realtors® to use words that describe the specific property and not for whom it might be best suited. In addition, Realtors® should refrain from using phrases to describe a neighborhood that could be construed as discriminating against a group of people. Avoid describing a neighborhood as, for example, “kid friendly” or “primarily Hispanic.” Furthermore, using words like “exclusive,” “private,” or “integrated” is also discouraged. These words imply a preference for one group over another and hint at that community’s makeup.
Also, avoid pointing out known racial, ethnic or religious landmarks that may be nearby. Those landmarks are easily identified by potential buyers, so it is not necessary to mention the home’s proximity to those landmarks in your advertising. In fact, HUD has published guidance regarding advertisements that contain references to these types of landmarks that reads:
2. Religion. Advertisements should not contain an explicit preference, limitation or discrimination on account of religion (i.e., no Jews, Christian home). Advertisements which use the legal name of an entity which contains a religious reference (for example, Roselawn Catholic Home), or those which contain a religious symbol, (such as a cross), standing alone, may indicate a religious preference. However, if such an advertisement includes a disclaimer (such as the statement “This Home does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status”) it will not violate the Act. Advertisements containing descriptions of properties (apartment complex with chapel), or services (kosher meals available) do not on their face state a preference for persons likely to make use of those facilities, and are not violations of the Act.
The use of secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays such as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny or St. Valentine’s Day images, or phrases such as “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Easter”, or the like does not constitute a violation of the Act.
Realtors® should not volunteer information on the racial, religious or ethnic composition of a neighborhood or engage in any activity that may result in panic selling. However, a Realtor® is free to provide factual demographic information to clients if that information is needed to assist with the transaction, and as long as that information is obtained from a reliable and impartial source and the source is referenced. The CarolinaMLS Realist system provides demographic reports that can be used. Remember, it is what you do with that information and how you present the information that could be considered discrimination and a violation of the Fair Housing Act and the Code.