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Know Your Fair Housing Laws

Updated: Jun 20, 2021

If you are selling or renting your home

Now that Spring is here, many of us will be buying and selling their homes without a Realtor®. To protect yourself, it is crucial that you are familiar and understand that you are still obligated to comply with all federal, state, and local fair housing laws. Failure to comply will subject you to substantial fines starting at $16,000 for the first offense under the Civil Rights act of 1968, Title VIII, which deals with fair Housing regulations.

The Civil Rights Act of 1968, Title VIII, applies to all residential properties, intended for occupancy as ones’ residence. The act prohibits discrimination in housing because of:

• Race or color

• National Origin

• Religion

• Sex

• Familial status

• Disability or handicap

Let’s review each of these categories

Race or Color - This means that you must not use a person’s race to deny them of their rights to purchase a home if they are otherwise qualified to do so. For specifics, please go the HUD website.

I had a discrimination situation when I was new to the business where a seller I represented refused to sign a purchase agreement because the couple was African American. The seller’s violation was reported to the Department of Urban Development (HUD), which enforces fair housing laws, who investigated and found the seller did violate the act resulting in a fine of $16,000 plus a civil judgement of $50,000 to the buyers and $9600 commission to my real estate firm as well as legal fees to defend this charge.

National Origin – As in race or color, discrimination against people from “Africa, Asia, Russia, etc. “ violates the fair housing laws. Currently, there are property owners that are refusing to sell or rent their homes to those "that come from China". This is a clear violation of the act.

Religion – Forbids discrimination based on one’s religion, or lack thereof.

I had a situation where a buyer wanted me to check the ownership of all homes in this neighborhood for owners that had "Jewish names". This is a clear violation of the act, which, obviously, I could not do.

Sex – In addition to discrimination based on being a female or male, sexual preference (gay or lesbian), transsexuals, and others related to LGBT is also strictly forbidden.

Once again, I had an owner that refused to rent their home to two unmarried women as "he only rents to married male and female couples". This is a clear violation under the act as well as Familiar Status, as defined below.

Familial Status – applies to children under the age of 18 living with parents or legal custodians; pregnant women and people securing custody of children under 18. This is one of the most common violations under the Fair Housing Act.

Examples of violations include giving out information on the number of children in a community, advertising adults with no children only, a buyer asking to see only neighborhoods with children.

Handicap or Disability – You can not refuse a person with a disability or handicap the right to buy or rent a personal residence based on handicap or disability if they are not a threat to themselves or others.

3 common examples deal with rentals -

If you are a landlord or owner of a property with a “no pet” policy, such policy does not apply to “service animals”, such as seeing eye dogs or companion animals for those with mental issues where pets are used as a treatment for their condition.

The installation of ramps for access to a property if the installation and, removal, of the ramps are paid for by the tenant and does not affect the structural integrity of the property.

Refusal to sell a property based on one’s handicap and/or appearance is another violation.

Prohibited Acts and Examples

Refuse to engage in a real estate transaction

  • I won’t show you my rental because I don’t like “Aliens”, which is a “protected” class.

  • I refuse to show you my home because you are Gay.

  • My home is not available to people from your country

  • Refuse to rent or sell property*

  • Thanks for the offer, but I do not wish to sell you the home because of your Asian heritage.

  • The ramp you will need to build to accommodate your handicap will detract from the neighborhood, so I will not be able to lease this home to you.

  • This is a quiet neighborhood, so I won’t sell my home to you because you have teen age children.

  • Set different terms, conditions, or privileges for a sale or rent

    • I require an additional month’s security deposit for people of your race.

    • I charge a higher interest rate for people from your country.

    • I charge a $300 fee for renters with pets, including your seeing eye dog.

    • Indicate that property is not available when it actually is available

    • I’m sorry, but this home is under contract, when in fact, it is not.

    • I don’t expect to build this model again even though construction has begun on 3 versions of the model in question.

    • I just received a deposit when, in fact, this is not true.

    • Threaten, intimidate, retaliate against, or otherwise interfere with the use and enjoyment of a property.

Here is what happened to me when, as a real estate agent, I met with the seller of a home I was trying to list. After going through my presentation, the seller placed a gun on the table where we were sitting and said he would list his home with me. He then looked at me and asked me if I knew what the gun meant and what it would be used for if any minority were to tour his home.

Since I am not a particularly brave person, I politely declined the listing and left the property with much speed.

After thinking about his method of persuasion, I called the local FBI office and told them what just occurred. Within “seconds”, at least 10 agents surrounded the seller’s home and hauled him off to jail.

While, in retrospect, my call was not the greatest of ideas, I learned quickly what happens if you are threatened by a homeowner.

Are there exceptions to this act? Yes, here is the primary exception

If you live in a 2-to-4-unit property, you can discriminate (refuse to sell or lease) if the reason is not based on race or color. There are other limited exceptions. These can be viewed on the web site listed below.

How do you avoid these potential infractions?

Download a copy of the Fair Housing Acts and read it! - Defending alleged fair housing violations are expensive and time consuming.

Do not respond to questions regarding protected classes - If you are asked a question relating to the federal, state, and local, if applicable, protected classes, your response must be “Sorry, I can’t respond to your question as by doing so, I would be violating fair housing laws, and therefore, you (the buyer and/or potential renter)need to determine if the property in question is a good fit for you”.

Advertising You must be careful that your ads do not contain any reference to the protected classes. The ads need to be specific to the property only outlining features such as location, number of bedrooms and baths, lot size, square footage and amenities. Reference to children, places of worship, schools (with some strictly limited exceptions), etc. will expose you to potential liability and expense.

For specifics regarding federal fair housing information, click on this link to view and download the HUD pamphlet which covers the federal laws in detail. For state and local fair housing laws and protected classes, Google state fair housing laws and/or city, county fair housing regulations.

Bottom Line

If a question relates to any federal, state, and local protected classes – Race and color, National Origin, Religion and / or Familiar Status, your only answer to such requests is – “that you aren’t able to respond to their question as by doing so, you would be violating fair housing laws, and therefore, you (the buyer and/or potential renter)needs to determine if the property in question is a good fit for them”.

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