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The Code Toughens Its Words

An implicit antidiscrimination ban is now spelled out by a new standard of practice in the Code of Ethics.

January - February
2020

As REALTORS®, we pledge to live by the Code of Ethics outlined by the National Association of REALTORS®. NAR commemorated the 50-year anniversary of the Fair Housing Act in 2018, and fair housing has been enshrined in the REALTOR® Code since 1974—at the time mirroring the federally protected classes. In the years since, REALTORS® have moved ahead of these federal protections, adding sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in 2010 and 2013, respectively.

But not all of us give these issues the attention we should. Over my decades-long career in real estate, I have never seen a fair housing violation with my own eyes. I’m a white male and have learned that if you don’t look like me, selling real estate can be a very different experience. I’ve invested significant time and energy over the last three years engaging REALTORS® of color as I sought to improve inclusion within Illinois REALTORS®, where I served as president in 2018. Once I immersed myself in groups of people who don’t look or sound like me, it was devastatingly apparent that members of color, those who are non-native speakers of English, and LGBTQ members of our REALTOR® family regularly experience discrimination. (See Commentary about a broker’s response to a hate-based attack.)

While Article 10 of NAR’s Code of Ethics directly addresses fair housing policies, discrimination in our industry can manifest itself in the form of a lack of cooperation. Article 3 has long mandated that “REALTORS® shall cooperate with other brokers except when cooperation is not in the client’s best interest.” That provision has always implicitly forbidden refusal to cooperate with other brokers based on other brokers’ membership in any protected class. But ongoing experience makes clear that brokers—even unintentionally—may shun cooperation with a broker whose non-native spoken English is difficult to understand or whose color leads to an automatic presumption that their client isn’t qualified.

With these scenarios and many others in mind, NAR’s Board of Directors recently approved a new standard of practice to Article 3, effective Jan. 1, 2020: REALTORS® may not refuse to cooperate on the basis of a broker’s race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

That which was previously implicitly prohibited is now explicitly prohibited. The revision dispenses with any subtlety on that issue and trumpets loudly that discrimination in our REALTOR® family will not be tolerated and will subject offenders to swift and serious sanctions. After the recent reports of discrimination in Long Island, N.Y., the local board initiated investigations to determine whether members violated their duty to provide equal professional services consistent with Article 10. This is our Code in action.

We are REALTORS®. We welcome and embrace equal housing opportunity. We welcome and embrace cooperation with even our fiercest competitors whenever it works to our clients’ benefit. Because that’s who we R.


A New Timeline for Ethics Training

The NAR Board of Directors has approved an extension of the Code of Ethics training requirement from every two years to every three years. The deadline for the current training cycle has moved from Dec. 31, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2021. A presidential advisory group, appointed to review the requirement, recommended the change to give local associations adequate time between cycles to administer the program.

Matt Difanis

Matt Difanis is the 2020 chair of NAR’s Professional Standards Committee  and served as 2018 Illinois REALTORS® president. He has become a passionate advocate for improving inclusion within all levels of the REALTOR® trade organization and has won numerous awards for his work on inclusion and fair housing.

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