Fair housing is more than a list of dos and don’ts, rights and penalties and mandatory continuing education. As stewards of the right to own, use and transfer private property, fair housing protects our livelihood and business as REALTORS® and depends on a free, open market that embraces equal opportunity.
Fair housing is not an option, it is the law. The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits housing discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and familial status (protected classes). Californians are further protected from discrimination on the basis of age, marital status, genetic information, sexual orientation, sexual identification, AIDS/HIV, medical condition, political activities and affiliation, military or veteran status, and/or being domestic violence survivors.
What are some common unlawful acts of discrimination? They include:
- Refusing to sell a property because of a person’s protected class.
- Restricting loans or targeting higher cost loans to people based on their protected class or the neighborhood where the home is located.
- Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental.
- Failing to provide reasonable accommodations to a person with a disability.
Fair housing exists in a community when individuals of similar income have the same range of housing choices regardless of race or color, ancestry or national origin, religion, gender, disability, marital or familial status, sexual orientation, or source of income.
The Fair Housing Acts covers most housing. In very limited circumstances, the Act exempts owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family houses sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent, and housing operated by religious organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members.
REALTORS® recognize the significance of the Fair Housing Act and reconfirm their commitment to upholding fair housing law as well as their commitment to offering equal professional service to all in their search for real property.
The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has a “Fair Housing Action Plan” that uses the abbreviation “ACT,” which stands for (A)ccountability, (C)ulture Change and (T)raining. It ensures that America’s 1.4 million REALTORS® are doing everything possible to protect housing rights in America. NAR recommends printing a copy of the “REALTOR® Fair Housing Declaration” and posting it in your office. It can be found here,www.nar.realtor/fair-housing/fair-housing-program/fair-housing-declaration.
The Fair Housing Declaration says:
I agree to:
- Provide equal professional service without regard to the race, color, religion, gender (sex), disability (handicap), familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity of any prospective client, customer, or of the residents of any community.
- Keep informed about fair housing law and practices, improving my clients’ and customers’ opportunities and my business.
- Develop advertising that indicates that everyone is welcome and no one is excluded;, expanding my client’s and customer’s opportunities to see, buy, or lease property.
- Inform my clients and customers about their rights and responsibilities under the fair housing laws by providing brochures and other information.
- Document my efforts to provide professional service, which will assist me in becoming a more responsive and successful REALTOR®.
- Refuse to tolerate non-compliance.
- Learn about those who are different from me, and celebrate those differences.
- Take a positive approach to fair housing practices and aspire to follow the spirit as well as the letter of the law.
- Develop and implement fair housing practices for my firm to carry out the spirit of this declaration.
Where and when is Fair Housing discrimination occurring? According to CSA San Diego County, recent examples include:
- A nationwide mortgage lender had systematically charged higher interest rates to Hispanic and African-American borrowers.
- In Virginia Beach, landlords refused to rent to families with three or more children.
- In Connecticut a landlord refused to grant a tenant reasonable accommodation for her assistance dog which helped her with her cerebral palsy, seizure disorder, and depression.
In addition, a three-year investigation by Newsday, a New York newspaper, uncovered widespread evidence of unequal treatment by real estate agents on Long Island, New York. In one of the most concentrated investigations of discrimination by real estate agents in the half century since enactment of America’s landmark fair housing law, Newsday found evidence of widespread separate and unequal treatment of minority potential homebuyers and minority communities on Long Island.
The three-year probe strongly indicates that house hunting in one of the nation’s most segregated suburbs poses substantial risks of discrimination, with black buyers chancing disadvantages almost half the time they enlist brokers. The investigation, published Nov. 17, 2019, involved 25 undercover testers and 93 real estate agents who provided a total of 5,763 listings, as well as 240 hours of secretly-recorded meetings. Unequal treatment was directed toward Asians (19 percent), Hispanics (39 percent), Blacks (49 percent)
Additionally, the investigation reveals that Long Island’s dominant residential brokering firms help solidify racial separations. They frequently directed white customers toward areas with the highest white representations and minority buyers to more integrated neighborhoods. They also avoided business in communities with overwhelmingly minority populations. Fair housing laws bar agents from directing whites to one community and equally qualified blacks, Hispanics or Asians to other places, a practice known as steering.
The newspaper said, “Fair housing standards generally bar agents from talking about the backgrounds of people who live in neighborhoods as a form of verbal racial or ethnic steering. The standards also require agents to provide equal guidance to customers about areas in which they may want to live.
“Agents and brokers bear the responsibility for applying fair housing standards as they act as licensed gatekeepers to housing choices. Industry representatives have contended that proper training is the best way to ensure agents uphold fair housing laws, arguing against more aggressive enforcement through fines, license suspensions or revocations.
“Ultimately, fair housing violations are determined by the courts or enforcement agencies. Authorities may choose to file charges based on egregious conduct in a single case. More generally, they bring legal action after subjecting an agent to several paired tests to establish a pattern and to reduce the likelihood that an agent’s choices were either a fluke or soundly guided by the market at the time.”
The Urban Institute, a nonprofit group, conducted a nationwide study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2010. That study involved more than 8,000 tests found real estate agents engaged less frequently than in the past in more explicit forms of discrimination, such as not showing available houses to minority buyers. However, the study also showed that agents placed minority buyers in more integrated neighborhoods at a higher rate than white buyers.
“The issue of discrimination is very subtle,” said Claudia Aranda, a director of field operations for the Urban Institute. “In the absence of treatment that’s more overt, in the absence of particular discriminatory comments, individual home seekers will never have potentially any reason to suspect discrimination.”
For more details about the Newsday study, visit https://projects.newsday.com/long-island/real-estate-agents-investigation.
In order to prevent the appearance of discrimination, CSA San Diego County recommends the following:
- Train all your staff consistently on local, state and federal regulations.
- Standardize your engagement practices.
- Always post the Fair Housing logo prominently on your property.
- Distribute materials and information equally to all interested parties.
- Standardize the process of maintaining wait or interest lists.
- Brief staff daily as to the availability of units.
- Don’t show different units to different prospective applicants.
- Don’t show unclean units to prospective applicants.
PSAR will present a webinar on “Fair Housing Laws and Regulations” from 10 to 11 a.m., Wednesday, July 1. Presenter will be Monica Lopez of CSA San Diego County, a nonprofit that advocates for fair housing and in meditating tenant-landlord issues. CSA services include fair housing counseling, dispute mediation, educational fair housing seminars and rental practice discrimination audits. CSA also is involved with immigrant rights, hate-crime prevention, human trafficking and voter education. The webinar will be presented over the Zoom online meeting platform. Registration information is available at www.psar.org. Zoom membership is not required to participate in the webinar.