Discrimination and Fair Housing Laws
Equal Opportunity Housing
Karen Fiddler, a Mission Veijo real estate agent, recently wrote on her ActiveRain blog about an experience with a client that wound up forcing her to make a decision to drop the client based on discrimination and fair housing laws. Typically, when you hear the words discrimination or fair housing laws it is about an agent making a comment that is deemed discriminatory or in violation of the fair housing laws. This case, however, might help shed some light on why we, as Realtors®, sometimes can’t answer your questions.
Texas Real Estate Forms
Section 18.A. of the Buyer Representation Agreement states:
Broker’s services are provided without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or familial status.
Section 21.B. of the Residential Real Estate Listing Agreement Exclusive Right to Sell states:
Fair housing laws require the Property to be shown and made available to all persons without regard to race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. Local ordinances may provide for additional protected classes (for example, creed, status as a student, marital status, sexual orientation, or age).
When I get to either of these two sections when signing a buyer or seller to an agency agreement, I do the same thing every time. I read the statement (they are located at the end of the documents with several other important notices) to the client and add a note about my personal feelings on discrimination. Although I am only required to satisfy the law, I simply don’t discriminate. End of story. There’s no need for it in my business practice and I don’t have any reason to discriminate. It’s a shame these laws are even needed.
Fair housing laws were designed at a time when they were very necessary and they were a great idea – pushing us towards a more democratic, egalitarian society. If you experience discrimination in housing, you have rights and you should know them. The Department of Housing and Urban Development provides an excellent fair housing fact sheet and information on how to file a complaint if you feel you’ve experienced discrimination in housing.
In Karen’s case, she was being asked to help her clients find an area for them which matched their ethnicity. Although it has been argued before that this is not discrimination, for real estate agents, it is a dangerous question which could lead to a lawsuit. Unfortunately, as with all laws, the pendulum has swung further to one side than the original law (in my opinion) probably meant to. Realtors® should not steer their clients to particular areas of town based on race, religion, etc., but if a client specifically wants to live somewhere that fits that specific demographic, they should be allowed to and (again, in my opinion), their agent should be allowed to talk to them without fear of a lawsuit. Of course, the problem then is that the agent is acknowledging that there is some sort of separation between different areas (ie. that’s the Jewish part of town or that’s the area where all the Italians live) – and in the eyes of the law, that could be negatively viewed as discrimination.
The trouble with it is that if we didn’t need discrimination laws in the first place, we could probably talk more openly on the subject. I’ve always felt that part of the reason that discrimination still exists is because we spend so much focusing on pigeon-holing everyone. The Census wants to know your racial background. Demographic information for neighborhoods is often broken down along racial lines. By continuing to break everything down by these classes (race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability or familial status) we create our focus on the distinctions between them and allow the “differences” between us to be marked, tagged, and flagged – which can easily lead to discrimination.
I encourage everyone to be equal opportunity people and as far as my business practice goes, everyone is welcome.
As usual, I must disclose the fact that I am not a lawyer and therefore can’t give legal advice. The opinions I express about discrimination are in regards to my personal beliefs and although they follow the law, they are not necessarily one and the same as the law.
If you’re interested in reading about fair housing laws, check out this post by Patricia Kennedy, a real estate agent in Washington, DC, which opens up the question of whether the fair housing laws are unconstitutional.
photo courtesy of Seattle Municipal Archives
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