12 Steps to Stay on the Right Side of the Fair Housing Act

April 1, 1999

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says it will conduct a national survey this year to measure the level of housing discrimination that exists in the marketplace. This increased scrutiny reinforces the importance of keeping your sales and leasing practices bias free. If you’re found to be in violation of the U.S. Fair Housing Act, you face fines and, in some cases, loss of your license. So with Fair Housing Month upon us, REALTOR® Magazine offers these basics on adhering to the law.

  1. Commit the letter of the law to memory. The Fair Housing Act makes illegal any discrimination in the sale, lease, or rental of housing because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
  2. Give sellers and landlords the brochure What Everyone Should Know About Equal Opportunity in Housing and discuss it with them.
  3. Point out and discuss any language in the listing or lease agreement that pertains to fair housing.
  4. Get sellers’ consent in writing to abide by the law.
  5. Walk away from a listing or a property management contract if the owners seem unwilling or unable to adhere to the Fair Housing Act. If sellers, for example, refuse to show their property to certain buyers, terminate the listing agreement.
  6. Treat prospective buyers and tenants in a consistent manner. You can do so by establishing an equal professional service model. That is, develop a consistent approach to greeting people, showing homes, qualifying prospects, obtaining listings, conducting open houses, keeping records, and following up with prospects. Ask standard questions, and consider using forms or checklists to keep track of what you need to cover with each prospect.
  7. Be vocal about your support for fair housing. You want to send a positive message to your community and demonstrate that you and your company embrace fair housing. Conduct fair housing training programs, monitor salespeople’s and leasing agents’ performance, and commit to the REALTOR® Fair Housing Declaration. Doing so gives you a marketing edge and makes you more credible if you’re charged with a violation.
  8. Market to diversity. NAR and HUD now certify real estate practitioners who’ve been trained to work effectively with a diverse population. The “At Home With Diversity: One America” certification program is a full-day class that helps you build cross-cultural skills and develop a business plan that capitalizes on diversity. Once you complete the course, you can display in your advertising the HUD One America logo.
  9. Don’t encourage prospects to buy or lease a property--or discourage them from buying or leasing one--because of the racial, ethnic, or religious composition of a neighborhood. When you make such choices for prospects, you can be accused of steering. Instead, offer a variety of choices of neighborhoods.
  10. Implement procedures, such as self-testing, to measure your company’s compliance with the fair housing law. Such procedures can help you discover areas for improvement. Private fair housing organizations or your local REALTOR® association can conduct the testing.
  11. Beware of exclusivity. Be careful not to develop a promotion plan that excludes a certain group. Any marketing plan, including the selection of media for ads, that indicates a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin is a violation of the Fair Housing Act.
  12. Monitor yourself. Regularly ask yourself whether you provide the same level of service to everyone who walks through your door.

Fair Housing resources

Show the world that REALTORS® are leading the way to fair housing by making sure that your clients and customers--as well as your salespeople and leasing agents--know your commitment. NAR has developed several products that’ll help.

  • What Everyone Should Know About Equal Opportunity in Housing--This three-panel brochure outlines the responsibilities of each party to a transaction. Available in Spanish and English. $19.95 per 100. Item #166-799-RM
  • Fair Housing Sales: Shared Neighborhoods, Equal Opportunities Training Kit--This update on NAR’s award-winning fair housing training kit covers the legal, financial, and ethical considerations of fair housing. It includes a video, overheads, exams, a facilitator’s guide, a master participants’ guide, and a CD-ROM with a PowerPoint presentation. It’s designed for three hours of continuing education credit. $199.95, members; $299.95, nonmembers. Item #166-99-RM
  • Fair Housing Rental: Shared Neighborhoods, Equal Opportunities Training Kit--This update of NAR’s award-winning training kit for property managers addresses landlord and tenant relationships, penalties for violations, and sensitive issues in property management. It’s designed for three hours of continuing education credit. $199.95, members; $299.95, nonmembers. Item #166-150-RM

Elyse Umlauf-Garneau is a Chicago-based freelance writer and former senior editor with REALTOR® Magazine.

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