By Ginger Downs, IOM, CAE
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Association of Realtors
Fair housing is a topic that is thoroughly covered throughout your real estate career, between pre-licensing and continuing education. For some, it may seem like an exhausted topic, but there’s a reason it’s covered so much. Despite all the education, fair housing violations still occur. The penalties are severe, ranging up to $10,000 for the first offense. Yet, agents and brokers repeatedly dismiss the warnings of the importance of complying with the fair housing laws.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. Even discrimination against individuals who are associated with people in the protected class is illegal. Although the majority of real estate professionals can easily identify and refrain from blatant discrimination, more subtle forms of discrimination exist and occur.
Though agents who violate fair housing laws aren’t always the first to initiate these acts, repercussions are felt. Clients might give their agent instructions contradicting fair housing, because the public isn’t as educated on these laws like real estate professionals are. Some who are aware they’re asking too much of their agent don’t care. For example, sellers might try and persuade their agents to retain the same composition of a neighborhood by showing it to only one religion, or buyers might ask to see homes not owned by a handicap person.
When showing a property, consumers are bound to ask you many questions, ones that can potentially lead to illegal answers. If you’re conducting an open house and someone walking in asks, “So what type of people live in this building,” there aren’t many safe ways to respond. Responding with “an older group of people” or “it’s mostly Christians” can land you in hot water. Avoid these potential traps by thinking before you speak and reminding consumers that fair housing is a serious subject.
Those of you who have had clients whose second language is English may have experienced a demand from them to look for homes in a community that is predominantly of their native origin. For example, a Polish family wants to live in a predominantly Polish community and insists you show them houses there only. It may seem right to follow your client’s wishes, but not always. You must inform them of comparably priced homes in surrounding neighborhoods that fall within their search parameters and document this. If they refuse to visit those other neighborhoods, you’ll at least have the documentation that proves you weren’t steering your client.
Advertising is also a precarious area when it comes to fair housing. An ad that states, “Great house for retirees,” for example, is familial status discrimination, because it implies that children would not be welcome in that community. Unless a property qualifies as housing for older persons, the ad can’t mention age.
The Chicago Association of Realtors is committed under the “Many Neighborhoods — One America” effort to highlight the Fair Housing Law, Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, by continuing to address discrimination in our community, to support programs that will educate the public about the right to equal housing opportunities, and to plan partnership efforts with other organizations to help assure every American of the right to fair housing.
In a business that is based largely on referrals, don’t you want to be known as a fair housing-compliant agent?
REALTORS Real Estate School offers several continuing education (CE) courses that address fair housing, including “Fair Housing: It’s the Law,” “Diversity and Doing Business” and “Core Agency/Fair Housing.” Enrolling in these courses is a great way for brokers to fulfill their CE requirements before April 30. Visit chicagorealtor.com/education for course information.
The Chicago Association of Realtors (CAR), “The Voice for Real Estate in Chicago” since 1883, represents the business interests of more than 16,500 real estate professionals in the Chicagoland area. CAR is led by a voluntary board of directors, elected by the membership, who works in partnership with a professional administrative staff.