Federal Fair Housing Laws and Real Estate Advertising

Some property owners elect to sell or lease out a home or condo without engaging the services of a professional real estate agent or broker without fully understanding all the risk they are taking on.  Granted, being a licensed real estate broker, I’m a little partial here, but I can honestly say that, given all the laws, rules and regulations that pertain to the sale or leasing of residential real estate, as well as the hefty fines, or even criminal charges, that can result in non-compliance, for most owners I would not suggest to go it alone.  One of the more significant risks an owner faces is to violate Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 or, as it is more commonly known, the Fair Housing Act.

The Fair Housing Act, as originally passed, prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  In 1989, it was amended to also prohibit discrimination based on disability or on familial status.  While I believe the number of people that deliberately violate this act is small, I see many “accidental” or unintentional violations of it on a regular basis not only by private homeowners or landlords but even by licensed real estate professionals.  The most common form of violation I see has to do with advertising residential property for sale or lease and then often as a result of a choice of words.

The reason so many violations occur in advertising I believe is that it is easy to make an honest mistake in this area without realizing you are violating the Fair Housing Act.  For example, if your home has a large, level rear yard that is fenced, has a large sandbox and one of those fancy monster-sized playground sets, you do NOT have a “good yard for kids” or at least you cannot advertise it that way as it could be taken to be a preference with regard to familial status.  Get the picture?  Yes, it’s like a minefield out there and all I’m talking about here is advertising.  This is such an easy area to make an innocent, but still a potentially costly mistake in that I made a short, 2-minute video for real estate agents with “Do’s and Don’ts” of advertising under the Fair Housing Act.  The video is below for all you owners that decide you want to try it on your own or, perhaps, want a better understanding of why your agent cannot promote or advertise your home in a particular way that you feel is significant, such as by telling everyone about the great yard for kids or the parish you are in, that your home is within a short walk to a temple, etc.


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