The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968. Its goal was to prevent discrimination for people who were trying to buy or rent a house, qualify for a mortgage, or get assistance. If it’s an activity related to housing, there are probably federal laws about it. It’s also important to remember that most states have additional laws about housing, so you want to follow the laws for your state, too.
As a real estate agent it’s extremely important to make sure you’re complying with housing laws. Here are some dos and don’ts to consider:
To Meet Fair Housing Standards, Do:
Treat every one of your clients the same, and don’t show favoritism based on race, gender, national origin, color, disability, familiar status, or any other protected categories.
Listen more than you talk, and pay attention to what the client wants to see. If you have preapproval requirements in place before showing houses, make sure you ask the same of everyone you’re showing houses to, to remain fair.
Make sure you know the federal laws and the laws in your state. That’s especially important if you’ve recently moved, or you’re transacting business across state lines for any reason.
Do give buyers neutral information and suggest that they focus on due diligence when deciding if a particular neighborhood or property works for them. Remember, there are no “good” and “bad” neighborhoods, only those that fit or don’t fit for a particular buyer (and that’s up to the buyer to decide).
In Order to Protect Your Clients and Yourself, Don’t:
Make any assumptions about the “kind of person” your client is, their financial situation, or other factors that could impact whether they can purchase or rent property from you. Just work with the facts and requirements for the transaction.
Create any “perfect for” language in your property listing. Talk about the house and not the people who you would typically expect to purchase it. You don’t want to violate housing laws due to bad wording in a sale or rental advertisement.
Violate the housing laws because your client asks you to. If you have a seller who doesn’t want to sell to a particular buyer due to a category in the housing laws, you shouldn’t just go along with it. It’s still illegal, even if it’s the seller’s wishes.
Get complacent, because you could be tested at any time. There are testers who are hired to call up agents and ask questions in ways that may violate housing laws. If you answer inappropriately you could end up fined, and could even lose your license.
There are some gray areas and loose guidelines in the real estate world, but the Fair Housing Act isn’t part of them. It’s the law, and it’s taken very seriously. Understanding how to conduct business and stay within the borders of that law is a vital part of working as an agent. Not only does it help your clients get better service, but it also gives you peace of mind.