The Fair Housing Act: What Real Estate Pros Need to Know

fair housing act

The United States has a long history of civil rights legislation and court rulings. Today, there are a number of protection measures to help prevent discrimination against protected classes of people. This is not only the law. It is simply good business sense to treat all consumers with the same respect, honesty, and fair dealings—whether you work in real estate or any other type of business. As a real estate professional, you owe your clients certain fiduciary or statutory duties and (of course) you are required to follow the law. This article gives an overview of the federal Fair Housing Act and outlines specific prohibited acts of discrimination found in real estate.

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What is the Fair Housing Act?

The following key pieces of legislation are collectively known as the Fair Housing Act.

Civil Rights Act of 1866

This act prohibits discrimination against race. There are no exceptions. It states, “All citizens of the United States shall have the same right in every state and territory as is enjoyed by white citizens thereof to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold, and convey real and personal property.”

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968

No discrimination in housing based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National origin

Housing and Community Development Act of 1974

No discrimination based on gender.

Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988

No discrimination in housing based on:

  • Disability
  • Family status (presence of children)

Are there any other fair housing laws?

There is also a court case you should be aware of. Supreme Court decision, 1968: Jones v. Mayer determined the following:

  • There will be no racial discrimination in any housing based on the following characteristics:
    • Ancestral
    • Ethnic
    • Physical
    • Cultural
    • Linguistic
  • Equal opportunity to housing is the law. It is illegal to discriminate in the sale, rental, or financing of housing based on:
    • Age
    • Sex
    • Race
    • Color
    • Marital status
    • Familial status
    • Physical or mental disability
    • Religious creed
    • National origin
    • Sexual orientation (in many states)

Fair housing laws prohibit discrimination based on the protected classes listed above. In certain circumstances, the fair housing laws have exceptions. There is one protected class that is always protected, and that is race. No one can discriminate in housing based on race, ever.

What if the discrimination is unintentional?

On June 25 2015, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that discrimination does not have to be intentional to be illegal under the Fair Housing Act. Certain laws or policies may have disparate impacts that unintentionally cause discrimination and segregation.

What are specific prohibited acts of discrimination found in real estate?

Discrimination simply means treating other people differently, based on certain characteristics. Here are specific prohibited acts of discrimination that you should be aware of as a real estate professional:

  • Refusing to sell, rent, or negotiate housing
  • Changing terms and conditions
  • Advertising any discriminatory preference or limitation
  • Representing that a property is not available for sale or rent, when in fact it is
  • Profiting by inducing property owners to sell or rent on the basis of possible entry into the neighborhood of persons in protected classes
  • Altering terms or conditions of a home loan, or denying a loan, as means of discrimination
  • Denying membership or participation in a multiple ­listing service, real estate organization, or other facility related to the sale or rental of housing as a means of discrimination

Still fuzzy on the issue? Our sister site’s highly-rated course, A Day in the Life of a Buyer Agent, provides detailed scenarios and specific examples of Fair Housing Act violations

The Fair Housing Act has evolved over the last 100 years or more. Today, the law prohibits discrimination based on the following protected classes: age, sex, race, color, marital status, familial status, physical or mental disability, religious creed, or national origin. Many states add sexual orientation. As a licensed real estate professional, it is important to make sure all clients are treated in the same fair and honest manner. There should be no differences in services provided based on any of the protected classes.

Enroll in our sister site’s course A Day in the Life of a Buyer Agent

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