As a real estate agent, your job is to provide great customer service. In addition, you have to provide equitable service, making sure that no one is denied a home on the basis of race, gender, or disability. Fair housing is the law.
Thinking about becoming a real estate agent in California? Here's what you need to know about fair housing legislation and best practices.
What Is Fair Housing?
For years, discrimination was the norm in the real estate industry. Many communities used redlining to deny mortgages to low-income people, especially people of color. It was a way to prevent them from living in certain "redlined" districts. This practice led to racial segregation and generational poverty.
Fair housing legislation seeks to end these discriminatory practices. Legally, no one can be denied a home or mortgage based on their race, gender, religion, ethnicity, or disability.
The Fair Housing Act
The Fair Housing Act of 1968 is the first large-scale legislation designed to protect individuals from unfair housing practices. It defines certain "protected classes" of people. It protects from discrimination when:
Obtaining a mortgage.
Renting or buying a home.
Seeking housing assistance.
Engaging in housing-related activities.
Originally, the Fair Housing Act was a piece of civil rights legislation. As such, its goal was to protect individuals from discrimination on the basis of color, ethnicity, religion, and race.
In 1974, the Housing and Community Development Act expanded the protected class to include gender. The Fair Housing Amendment Act of 1988 added disability and family status to the list of protected classes.
Today, the seven protected classes are:
Ethnicity, or country of origin.
Familial status (family units with children under 18, pregnant women, people awaiting a custody decision).
Disability (mental or physical).
California's Fair Employment and Housing Act
In addition to federal legislation, California has specific laws that govern fair housing. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits anyone in the housing business from discriminating against protected tenants or homeowners. It also prevents zoning or land-use decisions that discriminate against the protected classes.
Under California law, a real estate agent cannot:
Refuse to sell a home or condo to a person in one of the protected classes.
Refuse to negotiate a sale or lease to someone from a protected class.
Lie about whether a property is available for sale.
Cancel a sale or rental agreement on the basis of someone's protected class.
Offer inferior terms, privileges, facilities, conditions, or services.
Refuse to make reasonable accommodations.
Fair Housing Best Practices for California Real Estate Agents
The best way to follow the law is to focus on what your clients can afford, rather than their appearance or identity. Using their price range as a guide, select homes that meet their list of criteria from a variety of neighborhoods.
Real estate agents should never make assumptions about the kind of home or community their clients want to live in. Even well-meaning assumptions can violate fair housing legislation.
For instance, consider you have a Latino family as a client. You may think they want to live in a neighborhood where mostly Hispanic and Latino families live. Because of that, you only select properties for them from neighborhoods that fit this description. This is a potential violation. It could also be a violation to steer a family with young children away from communities with predominately older residents.
Finally, be inclusive in the language that you use to advertise properties. By all means, avoid code words and language in MLS descriptions that could be read as limiting. Phrases like "active living," for instance, may discriminate against individuals with physical disabilities.