Follow the Code of Ethics
The NAR Code of Ethics also has provisions related to preventing discrimination. You cannot deny equal professional services to, nor can you be part of a plan or agreement to discriminate against, anyone for reasons related to the protected classes listed in the Fair Housing Act. The Code also prohibits harassing speech, hate speech, epithets, and slurs based on the protected classes. REALTORS® may not refuse cooperation with another broker because the other broker is a member of a protected class. There are also provisions in the Code to prevent discrimination against protected classes related to employment practices and the information you can share with clients.
Fair housing issues can seem enormous and miniscule at the same time. What difference can one agent or broker make against systemic, nationwide problems like racial inequality and the wealth and homeownership gaps? Actually, a big difference. You can help improve fair housing in your business and community.
If you only think of fair housing in terms of avoiding overt, in-your-face discrimination, you will miss the wide variety of violations that could happen in any real estate transaction. Fair housing complaints can spring from actions as small as adding a non-inclusive sentence in a listing description or answering a client’s question with an opinion instead of a fact.
Fair housing is everyone’s responsibility. Those who say fair housing isn’t a concern because I don’t discriminate are not helping, says Laurie Benner, associate vice president of programs at the National Fair Housing Alliance. “Just because you don’t see or experience a problem doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It’s that type of apathy that is almost as dangerous as the bad behavior itself. By denying it, you’re contributing to the problem,” she says.
Here are things you can do right now to support fair housing in your brokerage, community, and the state of Texas.
“It’s imperative that brokers prioritize fair housing,” says Laurie Benner, associate vice president of programs at the National Fair Housing Alliance. “Make it a part of every office meeting just the way that some associations read an antitrust statement before every committee meeting.”
Brokers should make it part and parcel of the culture of their brokerage, she adds. They should require fair housing training as part of an agent’s employment. Consider working with a fair housing organization to develop a custom training.
Benner says brokers shouldn’t be scared of how their agents might react. “I’ve heard of brokers who don’t want to impose too many requirements on their agents because they’re afraid they’ll go elsewhere. And I say if their agents aren’t fully committed to be the best, most ethical agents they can be, then they ought to go elsewhere—even if, or especially if, they’re a top agent or a top team. No broker wants to see their name on the front page of a newspaper for being associated with illegal or unethical activity.”
She also suggests including support staff in fair housing training, since those staffers are often the first point of contact with the public and clients.
“First off, I think REALTORS® should make a commitment to educating themselves, not only on fair housing laws and best practices, but related topics such as diversity and inclusion, racial disparities, and barriers to housing opportunity. It’s hard to have a depth of understanding without a holistic knowledge of the history of fair housing and how the past is still impacting people today.”
- NAR provides the online simulation Fairhaven and online workshop Bias Override: Overcoming Barriers to Fair Housing.
- Learn about upcoming sessions of What’s Fair in Fair Housing and Texas Affordable Housing Specialist: FHA Lending and Fair Housing at texasrealestate.com/findacourse.
- Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs trainings can be found at tdhca.state.tx.us/fair-housing/index.htm.
Build Fair Housing into Your Everyday Business
Benner recommends that agents, in cooperation with their brokers, develop a plan and use it consistently. “You can even use a checklist if it helps. Make sure to apply policies to absolutely everyone across the board evenly. For example, if you are in the habit of asking for a loan preapproval letter from buyers, ask every single client for it,” Benner says.
You can also put fair housing information in buyers’ presentations and sellers’ packets, so your clients know what the responsibilities and obligations are.
For Property Managers
“Property managers need to take fair housing laws just as seriously as any other real estate professional—possibly even more so, since the majority of fair housing complaints stem from rental situations rather than homeownership,” says Laurie Benner, associate vice president of programs at the National Fair Housing Alliance.
Nationwide, disability is the top category of fair housing complaints, and those complaints are largely coming from rental properties. Property managers must know how to respond to requests for reasonable accommodations and modifications, including those for service or assistance animals, Benner says.
Managers should make sure all staff are trained on fair housing issues. Property managers can take the National Center for Housing Management’s Fair Housing Essentials and Fair Housing Specialist online certification courses.
Use Inclusive Language
How you treat clients is at the heart of fair housing. Knowing what you can and can’t say is essential. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- DON’T ask questions that could categorize buyers. Though you generally may ask about lifestyle interests and priorities, you are not allowed to ask questions that attach a buyer to a protected class, Benner advises.
- DO direct clients to unbiased sources of information when answering questions.
- DON’T give your opinion, especially when it comes to school or crime information. “Opinions are not facts,” Benner says. An opinion could be construed as influencing clients’ housing choice based on demographics.
- DO offer listing options from the entire local area unless specifically told by clients to focus on a particular neighborhood.
- DON’T make assumptions about where someone will or will not be comfortable living.
- DO be honest about what you can say. Feel free to tell clients that you are prohibited from answering questions with opinions or offering subjective information, Benner says.
Learn the Laws
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibits housing discrimination based on:
- Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
- National origin
- Familial status
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development offers many examples of housing discrimination based on those categories:
- Refusing to rent or sell housing
- Refusing to negotiate for housing
- Otherwise making housing unavailable
- Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling
- Providing a person different housing services or facilities
- Falsely denying that housing is available for inspection, sale, or rental
- Making, printing, or publishing any notice, statement, or advertisement with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination
- Imposing different sales prices or rental charges for the sale or rental of a dwelling
- Using different qualification criteria or applications, or sale or rental standards or procedures, such as income standards, application requirements, application fees, credit analyses, sale or rental approval procedures, or other requirements
- Evicting a tenant or a tenant’s guest
- Threatening, coercing, intimidating, harassing or interfering with anyone exercising a fair housing right or assisting others in exercising such right
- Failing or delaying performance of maintenance or repairs
- Limiting privileges, services, or facilities of a dwelling
- Discouraging the purchase or rental of a dwelling
- Assigning a person to a particular building or neighborhood or section of a building or neighborhood
- For profit, persuading, or trying to persuade, homeowners to sell their homes by suggesting that people of a particular protected characteristic are about to move into the neighborhood
- Discriminating in the terms or conditions of homeowners insurance because of the race, color, religion, sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation), disability, familial status, or national origin of the owner and/or occupants of a dwelling
- Denying access to or membership in any multiple listing service or real estate brokers’ organization.
The Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs lists several federal laws that may provide a justification for enforcement of fair housing. The list includes Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. Learn more at tdhca.state.tx.us/fair-housing/index.htm.
Review Your Marketing Materials
Some of the most common fair housing violations can be found in advertising or MLS listings, Benner says. Including language about families runs the risk of indicating preference, limitation, or discrimination.
Check your marketing photographs and artwork, she adds. Make sure your advertisements include a diverse group of people; your materials shouldn’t feature the same group or groups of people.
Work with Public and Private Fair Housing Groups
You can link up with local, state, and national organizations working on fair housing in your area.
Benner recommends joining local chapters of multicultural real estate associations. These organizations welcome all real estate professionals from all backgrounds.
- National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP)
- National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB)
- Asian Real Estate Association of America (AREAA)
- LGBTQ+ Real Estate Alliance.
Talk about opportunities to participate with local nonprofit fair housing centers or related state government agencies.
You can find groups online, such as the Facebook groups Deliberately Fair Housing and Real Talk – Race and Real Estate, where real estate professionals and fair housing advocates share information, Benner says.
Seek Official Data and Unofficial Discussions
To get an official look at the state of fair housing in your area, you can review fair housing complaints through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development as well as local fair housing centers, Benner says. These groups have complaint data broken down by the protected classes. Look for official reports, annual reports, and lawsuit case studies on websites related to fair housing.
For an unofficial view, talk with fellow agents and brokers in your community. What are they seeing and hearing on the job? Conversations can point to trends or percolating issues that have the potential to become problematic later, Benner says.
Laurie Benner, associate vice president of programs at the National Fair Housing Alliance, suggests the following books:
- Matthew Desmond, Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
- Diana Lind, Brave New Home: Our Future in Smarter, Simpler, Happier Housing
- Douglas S. Massey and Nancy A. Denton, American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass
- Antero Pietila, Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City
- Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America
- Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership
- Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration
Texas REALTORS® YPN Committee’s book club has read:
- Emmanuel Acho, Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man
- Mehrsa Baradaran, The Color of Money: Black Banks and the Racial Wealth Gap
The NAR Library and Archives offers e-books and audiobooks on a variety of real estate topics. The national association offers resources for book clubs and reading discussion groups.
Hold Everyone Accountable
Don’t be afraid to speak up when you see evidence of fair housing violations even if the people involved are your coworkers.
“Hold your peers accountable even if it’s messy,” Benner says. “REALTORS® should be aware that there will be more real estate testing and related enforcement actions to come in the future. What happened in the Newsday investigation is almost certain to happen again. Agents should at a minimum be protective of their ability to earn a living.”
All REALTORS® pledge to uphold the NAR Code of Ethics and not make discrimination a part of their business, employment practices, and conduct.
“REALTORS®, therefore, are zealous to maintain and improve the standards of their calling and share with their fellow REALTORS® a common responsibility for its integrity and honor,” the Code says.
If you aren’t already doing that, the best time to start is right now.
Laurie Benner, associate vice president of programs at the National Fair Housing Alliance, suggests the following videos online:
- Act.tv, Systemic Racism Explained
- Apple TV+, The Banker
- Netflix, 13th
- Netflix, Amend: The Fight for America
- Newsday, Long Island Divided
- NPR, Housing Segregation and Redlining in America: A Short Story
- Grab the Key on YouTube
Apply for a Texas REALTORS® Committee
Consider applying to join one of the state association’s committees. The Diversity and Housing Initiatives committees include fair housing in their work. Registration is open from May 1 to June 30. Everyone who volunteers will be appointed to a committee, but some may not get their first choice of appointment. Learn more at texasrealestate.com/committees.