Texas REALTOR® magazine: Are REALTORS® getting enough education about fair housing?
Zelda Cain: Fair housing education is offered, but there are too many empty chairs in those classrooms. Agents don’t see the value in that topic. I think a fair housing class should be mandatory like the required Legal 1 and 2 classes.
What fair housing mistakes do you see agents and brokers make?
I’ve had clients looking to lease property who are asked to submit a picture ID to the listing agent.
Some of those clients are rejected before the property manager ever runs a background or credit check, and I think it’s because the REALTOR®, property manager, or landlord didn’t like the way my clients looked—their name, race, color or nationality.
Steering clients remains a problem, too. I’ve had buyers tell me that their previous agent refused to show them homes in certain communities—even after the clients requested to see a specific home. No one comes out and says “you can’t live here,” but it’s obvious to me that these buyers were being steered toward or away from areas because of their skin tone or religion or nationality.
Article 10 of the Code of Ethics outlines what our commitment to equal opportunity in housing should be. The behaviors reported about some REALTORS®, from my clients, are unacceptable. We need to take ourselves out of the equation. The client alone should decide whether a property or neighborhood is right for him or her.
Have you experienced sellers violating fair housing rules?
I once had a professional football player as a client, a black man with tattoos and dreadlocks, who wanted to buy a new home from a builder. We had a letter from his financial planner stating that he had the funds to purchase in cash anything in the builder’s portfolio and could close in as little as two weeks. The builder’s sales rep took a copy of his driver’s license and the letter and left the office. When she returned more than 15 minutes later, she asked for a copy of his original football contract. I suspect my client’s appearance made her treat him differently than another buyer.
What are ways you’ve seen landlords violate fair housing rules?
Many landlords don’t know the rules regarding service animals. They ask for large deposits for the service animal prior to accepting a lease from the applicant or deny a lease application because they don’t accept pets.
How can REALTORS® best inform their clients—buyers, sellers, and renters—about fair housing and what it means?
Fair housing laws, tips, and examples should be a part of our normal dialogue with clients. We need to have these discussions during initial consultations with clients. Set expectations and inform clients about proper practices. Then, you can handle issues as they arise.
My office has a systematic approach. At the initial meeting with a client, I explain that we have incorporated the One America Principles and Fair Housing Declaration as a part of our daily operations and overall business plan. Our clients are asked to sign copies of both documents at the time we initiate our relationship.
REALTORS® also should call out violations and actions that looks suspicious. Stop ignoring these behaviors in favor of the almighty dollar.
How would you change fair housing laws?
I had an elderly buyer look to purchase a home. She received a pre-approval letter from a major lender, and her offer on a house was accepted by the seller.
My buyer submitted the requested document for loan approval, and we waited. For three months, we kept going back and forth with the lender, providing updated documents time and again. The seller was patient and granted us several extensions for closing. Finally, though, he accepted a backup offer that closed. My client’s lender never gave us a reason for the delay, and never issued a denial letter. It was as if she never applied for the loan.
Age is not one of the seven protected classes under the Fair Housing Act, and I think it should be. Here’s an example where I think my client was discriminated against because of her age.
With the approval of my client, I asked another lender to look at her documents and explain what could have caused such a delay. The new lender could not find any issues with the file. My client found another home to purchase, and the new lender closed the deal in less than 30 days.
What do you wish every REALTOR® knew about fair housing in Texas?
Fair housing isn’t a problem that’s been solved. We have laws, but not everyone follows the rules. All REALTORS® need to uphold the law and take a stand when we see it being ignored. Only then will we see true change taking place.