By: Katie Cintron, Realtor®, Coldwell Banker Realty, & Douglas G. Christy, Esq., The Law Office of Douglas G. Christy, PLLC

Real estate professionals have a responsibility to protect their customers’ best interests, the public interest, and their own business interests, and knowing and understanding fair housing is crucial to fulfilling this responsibility. Statistics show the residential housing market continues to become more diverse, so real estate agents should recognize the unique differences among consumers to ensure everyone has an equal opportunity for housing and that agents comply with applicable laws.

FAIR HOUSING ACT BASICS

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is commonly known as the Fair Housing Act, and it was amended to expand its protections to individuals with disabilities and familial status. The Fair Housing Act is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). Florida has a virtually identical law found in Part II of Chapter 760, Fla. Stat., and several local governments in Florida have their own ordinances that provide similar or additional protections. At the most basic level, fair housing laws protect people from discrimination encountered in the process of buying, renting, or using a residence, obtaining loans, or in other practices related to accessing or using housing. The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on any of the following protected classes:

  1. Race
  2. Color
  3. Religion
  4. National origin
  5. Sex
  6. Handicap
  7. Familial status

For more information about the Fair Housing Act and related requirements or obligations, please review the following page and click here.

EXAMPLES OF ACTIONS PROHIBITED UNDER FAIR HOUSING LAWS

  • Refusing to show, sell or rent housing
  • Different treatment of potential buyers, renters, or occupants
  • Discriminatory advertising expressing or suggesting a preference for buyers or tenants that are contrary to any of the protected classes
  • Harassment that is based on any of the protected classes
  • The application of more burdensome criteria to applicants of protected classes
  • Blockbusting
  • Redlining
  • Steering
  • Failing to make reasonable accommodations to policies, procedures, or rules that are necessary to allow individuals with a disability to make use of the housing, or
  • Adopting or enforcing rules that have the effect of discriminating against any of the protected classes

Examples of cases where housing providers or related parties have engaged in discriminatory housing practices, have been pursued successfully by HUD as a result, and have been ordered to pay damages, penalties, attorneys’ fees and/ or compelled to take corrective actions to avoid further or continuing any discriminatory practices can be found in the press releases available at www.hud.gov/fairhousing.

Real estate practitioners should be aware one way that HUD and other state or local agencies test for fair housing violations is the use of testers. Testers are persons who, without the intent to purchase a home, seek information about the availability of housing to determine whether discriminatory practices are occurring. HUD’s “Fair Housing; It’s Your Right” is available here.

Although the Fair Housing Act was enacted over 50 years ago, housing discrimination is still a prevalent problem in this country, and housing providers continue to run afoul of applicable laws for reasons including their ignorance of the law, their failure to ensure their practices are compliant with applicable laws, or their failure to ensure that those working with them or otherwise engaged in offering or managing housing are following applicable laws. As a real estate professional, it is our duty to educate ourselves, to treat everyone equally and with respect, and to avoid engaging in any prohibited practices to avoid or minimize the chances of fair housing discrimination claims being raised. For more information about how to do so, NAR and HUD have jointly developed the Realtor® Fair Housing Declaration, which is available at www.nar.realtor/fair-housing/fair-housing-declaration.