In our industry, and America in general, fair housing is an unalienable right. That’s why it’s every agent’s responsibility to uphold these values with unimpeachable ethics. This isn’t just a social belief. It’s the law. At JohnHart, we strictly adhere to the Fair Housing and Discrimination Law. Even if this law weren’t in place, we’d uphold its values. However, the concrete nature of the law sets a crucial boundary and a concrete definition that leaves little room for interpretation.
Understanding How Fair Housing Laws Define Discrimination
JohnHart takes fair housing seriously. But it’s too important of a matter to leave up to trust. Therefore, the California Association of Realtors (CAR) put together the Fair Housing and Discrimination Advisory (FHDA). This form makes adherence to the Fair Housing and Discrimination Law as simple as possible.
So, what constitutes as discrimination? Generally speaking, the following traits cannot be used as factors in denial of housing:
- National Origin
- Gender (including gender identity and expression)
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Military status (including veteran status)
- Familial status (ie. households with children under the age of 18)
- Source of income
- Disability (including mental or physical)
- Medical conditions
- Genetic information
- Age (senior-only housing excepted)
- Primary language
- Immigration status
It seems like common sense, right? But violations still happen. Therefore, it helps that CAR keeps things crystal clear.
Examples of Discrimination in the Field
You may still be having a tough time imagining how discrimination like this can actually happen in the field. Unfortunately, it can manifest in many ways.
- An agent could refuse to show a property or make reasonable accommodations in reaction to one of the traits listed above.
- Perhaps an agent could outright deny sale or rental opportunities based on these factors.
- Even when they offer housing they can engage in discrimination by setting unequal terms.
- Refusing to negotiate with a client based on prejudice is yet another example.
- They could cross the line by inquiring about a potential client’s protected status.
- If the client has a disability and an agent refuses a request to reasonably accommodate the client, it counts as discrimination.
- An agent could even dig in their heels to delay processing on contracts or applications.
These are just a few examples that by no means constitute an exhaustive list. Sadly, discrimination comes in many ways.
Exploitative Panic Selling Violates Fair Housing Laws
Panic selling presents another manner of discrimination that agents need to avoid. But what is panic selling? It comes from the idea that a property can be marketed for reduced value due to a person in a protected class moving into the neighborhood. Sadly, prior to the Fair Housing and Discrimination Law, agents would exploit panic selling as a means to an end. Can you imagine marketing a price decrease due to an increase in crime or decline in quality schools? Yet, panic selling involves doing just that and pinning it on the prospective presence of a protected class. If you see an agent guiding buyers into or away from a neighborhood based on race or any other protected class, you need to recognize that it’s discrimination.
The Importance of Remaining Objective
It’s much more ethical to simply ask your client for their objective criteria for a property. This could include location, specific features, or a price range. When discussing these traits, you should avoid subjects like lackluster school districts or whether a street is deemed to be “safe” or “dangerous.” If you’d like to discuss an award-winning school district as a selling point, it’s preferable to use citable resources. For example, citing Zillow as the source in a claim about a school district’s high rating is acceptable. Just make sure if you share this information with one client, you share it with them all.
When you’re selling a house, it’s important to remember that your clients are much more interested in the home than they are in you. Make sure to keep personal opinions and judgments to yourself. You should only be using objective factors in your description of a property.
Fair Housing Means Equality
Above all, it is integral that you treat everyone equally and with the same professional courtesy. You shouldn’t be providing privileged information to certain clients or giving any kind of preferential treatment. You must remain equally available to all of your clients. And if you offer certain terms to one client, you must offer the same terms to the rest.
The California Department of Real Estate (DRE) takes accusations of discrimination very seriously and won’t hesitate to launch a full investigation. Again, it typically just takes a little common sense to avoid discriminating against potential clients. But licensed realtors should still familiarize themselves with the various details of all fair housing laws. And if you see someone else engaging in discrimination, point it out to them. It’s not just the law. It’s the right thing to do!