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Fair Housing Check: 5 Ways Discrimination Sneaks into Real Estate Tags: Specialty










Guest blog feature by:
John Anderson, Realtor®, AHWD, CRS, ABR, C2EX, GREEN, GRI
Twin Oaks Realty

Fifty six years. That’s not a long time, and yet that’s how long it’s been since the passage of the Fair Housing Act in 1968. With this not-so-distant history and the impacts still felt today, it’s still vital to reflect on why Realtors commemorate Fair Housing Month every April—and to watch out for violations that could unintentionally creep into your business practices.

Understanding our role in navigating fair housing laws is crucial for agents, landlords, sellers and buyers alike. Discrimination in housing rentals and sales not only violates ethical standards—which every Realtor has agreed to follow in our Code of Ethics—but also legal mandates, potentially leading to severe consequences for ourselves and our clients. Understanding common violations and implementing strategies to prevent discrimination is essential for every licensee. Here are the top five violations in residential real estate and some of the best ways to avoid discrimination:

1. Steering: Steering occurs when real estate professionals guide prospective buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics. According to a 2022 NAR survey, steering was the most common discrimination experienced or witnessed by homebuyers. To avoid this violation, agents should provide information about a variety of neighborhoods and properties without making assumptions about a buyer’s affinities, backgrounds, or preferences. Even well-meaning or unintended, steering has discriminatory impacts–any and all homes that meet the criteria of the homebuyer’s search should be shown to a prospective buyer.

2. Redlining: Redlining refers to the practice of denying or limiting financial services, such as loans or insurance, to residents in certain neighborhoods based on their race, ethnicity, or any protected characteristics. Agents should watch for red flags and be vigilant for signs of redlining, such as disparities in lending practices, access to services, or investment in certain neighborhoods. Disparities in loan approvals, interest rates, or insurance premiums can indicate potential redlining practices.

3. Selective Advertising: Advertising that specifies a preference for or excludes certain groups of people based on protected characteristics is a clear violation of fair housing laws. Agents should ensure that their marketing materials are inclusive and avoid using language or images that may deter specific demographics from considering a property or show a preference for certain groups—for example, describing a listing as “perfect for singles.”

4. Disability Discrimination: Failing to accommodate individuals with disabilities is another common violation in real estate. In fact, the #1 fair housing violation filed according to a 2019 report by the National Fair Housing Alliance were violations based on disability. In the rental of residential real estate, fair housing laws prohibit property owners from refusing occupants of a dwelling to make reasonable accommodations to a property at the tenant’s expense, for the occupant to fully enjoy the premises. In addition, a landlord or homeowners association cannot refuse to make reasonable modifications of existing rules or regulations that are necessary for a tenant or homeowner to fully enjoy the premises. Agents when showing properties should be knowledgeable about accessibility requirements and be prepared to make reasonable accommodations plans for disabled clients, such as providing alternative viewing options for properties and/or discussing the property features and layout so clients can make informed decisions regarding the property.

5. Family Status Discrimination: Discrimination in regards to marital status and families with children is prohibited under fair housing laws. Agents should remind their clients to refrain from making statements or decisions that imply a preference for or against families with children and should treat all clients equally regardless of family status. If sellers ask questions regarding the marital status of a buyer or make statements of preference for or against children, the agent should remind the seller of the protected classes under the law and to focus on the terms and qualifications under the agreement.

To help prevent real estate discrimination agents can take several proactive actions:

1. Education and Consistent Training

2. Implement Clear Policies and Procedures

3. Mindful Marketing

4. Consistent and Fair Treatment

5. Recognize Red Flags

6. Advocate for Clients

7. Thorough Documentation

8. Seek Legal Guidance When Needed

Preventing discrimination in residential real estate requires all of us to be proactive and vigilant. By educating themselves, recognizing red flags, advocating for clients, being consistent, mindful, and committing to fair housing principles, Realtors can help combat discrimination and continue moving our industry toward a more equitable housing landscape.