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Chairman’s Message: 3 Fair Housing Tips to Keep in Mind Year-Round

Quincy Virgilio: MLSListings Inc 2015 Chairman

Quincy Virgilio: MLSListings Inc 2016 Chairman

Each April, REALTORS recognize Fair Housing Month, commemorating the 1968 National Fair Housing Act (FHA), established to protect buyers and renters from discrimination based upon race, religion, nationality, lifestyle, gender, or familial status. As real estate professionals, it’s important we keep fair housing considerations top-of-mind year-round to keep our clients from violating this act and exposing themselves to potential lawsuits. This means staying on top of new rules, regulations, and policies ourselves.

Are you familiar with the Supreme Court’s decision of June 2015?

The case addressed historically biased arrests and stiffer sentencing of African Americans for similar crimes as non-African Americans. It also prompted HUD to release new guidance earlier this month that housing providers should exercise caution when considering a person’s criminal history in housing decisions.

HUD’s guidance does not preclude housing providers from crafting criminal history-based policies or practices, it makes evident that housing providers should create thoughtful policies and practices that are tailored to serve a substantial, legitimate, and nondiscriminatory interest of the housing provider, such as resident safety or the protection of property.

While persons with criminal records are not a protected class under the FHA, HUD stresses that criminal history-based barriers to housing have a statistically disproportionate impact on minorities, which are a protected class, and as such, creating arbitrary or blanket criminal-based policies or restrictions could violate the FHA.

Where do we run the risk of making a misstep as we conduct our day-to-day business?

Often, it is in the listing and contract language, but it can also arise when discussing the terms of the agreement with someone. Here are a few tips I share with the agents in my own practice:

  1. Whether it’s a listing for sale or a property for rent, if pets are not permitted for whatever reason, you cannot write or say “no pets” because it precludes service dogs, which discriminates against those with disabilities. Instead, you may want to state that only licensed or certified service animals are permitted.
  2. Remember “granny quarters” or “in-laws quarter,” and “Jack-and-Jill bathrooms?” These terms have given way to “guest quarters” and “pass-through bathrooms,” respectively because they were construed as discriminatory based on age, sexual orientation, and familial status.
  3. Don’t leave thoughtless or inappropriate comments unaddressed. If your clients make a comment or request that could be perceived as discriminatory, simply reminding them of the legal consequences under the Fair Housing Act will often take care of the situation.

According to REALTOR® Magazine’s February survey of NAR members, 80 percent of respondents said they had not encountered housing discrimination in their market. Yet fair housing organizations still receive nearly 30,000 complaints each year, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance, the only national organization dedicated solely to ending discrimination in housing.

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