Some 42 years ago, under the direction of then President Lyndon B. Johnson and just days after the assassination of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., the Federal Fair Housing Act was passed by Congress. The act was, in many ways, a tool to be used to help diversify communities and ensure the freedom of equality for all seeking housing in the United States. Unfortunately, many, both in the real estate industry and in the general public, remain ignorant of what the actual act entails.
Enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are many facets to the Fair Housing Act. First and foremost, the act “prohibits the discrimination in housing because of race or color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability.” In other words, a seller or rental property owner may not refuse to sell or rent housing to a potential buyer or renter based on the above criteria. In addition, a seller or landlord may not set different terms for different housing seekers such as higher or lower rent, provide different housing services or facilities such as the use of amenities, deny the availability of housing, persuade a homeowner to sell or rent by suggesting that people of a certain background have moved into or out of the neighborhood and may not deny membership or participation in any organization or facility related to the property such as country club memberships.
Mortgage lenders and real estate appraisers also have a responsibility to uphold the principles of the Fair Housing Act and, in fact, it is against the law to: refuse to make a mortgage loan, to withhold information regarding loans, discriminate in appraising property, refuse to purchase a loan or set different terms or conditions for loan purchasing based on race or color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability.
As real estate agents and brokers as well as mortgage lenders and property appraisers, we are held accountable for the actions of the clients we represent. We must ensure that all potential buyers and/or renters are treated in the same regard no matter what their background. It is our duty to share this knowledge with our clients in order to protect them from either becoming a victim of discrimination or from inadvertently breaking the law.
In that vein, here are a few things you may not have realized in relationship to the Fair Housing Act:
- No one may advertise the availability of a dwelling with a preference for a buyer or renter of a certain background including single-family and owner occupied housing that may be exempt from other portions of the act
- Refuse homeowners insurance coverage, deny insurance information and/or have differing homeowner’s insurance terms because of race or color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or disability
- Landlords may not refuse to allow renters (at their own expense) to make reasonable modifications to the property to allow for disabled dwellers to live comfortably in the property
- Accommodations to rules and/or policies must also be made for certain dwellers with disabilities such as the allowance of a guide dog for visually impaired tenants
While it would be nice to think we lived in a land where there was no discrimination and that the simple act of securing housing was a basic freedom guaranteed to all, that is just not always the case. And while we may not be the one committing the act of discrimination, some in our industry do sometimes turn a blind eye to violations. Don’t. No commission is ever worth the loss of your integrity.