Buyers rely on their real estate agent to help them find the perfect home. However, if you happen to ask your agent, “Is this a good neighborhood?” or ”How are the schools in this area?” you probably won’t get a straight answer. That’s because answering these kinds of questions could put your agent in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
A Bit of History
“The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was enacted ‘to provide, within constitutional limitations, for fair housing throughout the United States.’ The original 1968 act prohibited discrimination on the basis of ‘race, color, religion, or national origin’ in the sale or rental of housing, the financing of housing, or the provision of brokerage services. In 1974, the act was amended to add sex discrimination to the list of prohibited activities. The last major change to the act occurred in 1988 when it was amended to prohibit discrimination on the additional grounds of physical and mental handicap, as well as familial status.” *
In addition, The National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics embodies the ideals of the Fair Housing Act and includes equal opportunity on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.** Realtors® are expected to follow these guidelines while conducting business, and even outside their real estate practices.
Practical Aspects of Following the Fair Housing Act
If an agent gives an opinion about a neighborhood, even if done unconsciously, it can be considered a violation of law. For example, if an agent says, “This neighborhood is great for young families,” it implies that the community demographic consists of parents and kids, which would be a familial status violation. Unmarried individuals or older couples might pass on a house in the neighborhood because they might feel it doesn’t fit with their lifestyle. Crime statistics and details about schools can be interpreted as references to race – another violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act also applies to sellers. A real estate agent can’t market exclusively to homebuyers of a certain race or religion even if the seller wants him to. That would be a violation, and both the agent and the seller could be liable and, if found guilty of breaking the law, end up paying the victim to compensate for damages, housing, civil penalties, and attorneys fees.
Some other comments and the protected class it violates could include:
|“Are you sure you’d feel comfortable here? I have another listing where there are more people like you.”||Race/National Origin|
|MLS Description: “No Kids”||Familial Status|
|“That’s a high crime neighborhood.”||Race|
|“This house is located close to the ____________Church.”||Religion|
|“This house might be too much for a single woman to take care of.”||Sex|
|“With your wheelchair, you probably don’t want the second floor unit”||Disability|
Finding information about a neighborhood is easier today than it was in the past. Use freely available resources on the internet to learn more about the areas that interest you. A few visits to the neighborhood at different times of the day can also give you a feel for the community.
For homebuyers in Phoenix, The Arizona Association of Realtors has provided a document called the Buyer Advisory to assist in your research. It includes some of the issues you may want to investigate. It also contains links to sites that provide information that can assist you in your search. You can download The Buyer Advisory here. Your Realtor® can also provide other tools and resources to help you find the community that meets your needs.
Contact The Donnelly Group
If you have questions, or need help buying or selling a home in metro Phoenix, contact the Donnelly Group at 480-792-9700 or by email.