Why Is Fair Housing Important for Real Estate Professionals?

By Ann Heinz, JD, CDEI
May 17, 2022
Why is Fair Housing Important for Real Estate Professionals?

As a real estate professional, it’s essential to understand fair housing and why it is so important. Statistics show consumers in the residential housing market are becoming more diverse. This diversity and our increasingly multicultural society can provide an opportunity for real estate professionals to grow their businesses. However, to take advantage of this opportunity, professionals must develop or strengthen their understanding of diversity.

It's important to be aware of all relevant local, state, and federal laws. But most importantly, it is a real estate professional’s duty to treat everyone with dignity. Real estate agents are part of the front line in ensuring everyone has equal opportunity for housing, no matter their race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, disability, or any other protected class. 

What Does “Fair Housing” Mean?

Fair housing means every individual has equal opportunity to be considered for housing, including rental units, purchasing property, obtaining loans, and insurance policies. The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on any of the following:

  • Race
  • Skin color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex (including sexual orientation and gender identification)
  • Familial status
  • Disabilities

Real estate professionals should keep in mind protected classes are sometimes expanded by state and local laws. It is the real estate agent’s responsibility to know and provide services in compliance with not only the federal law, but any additional protections required in their specific state, county, and/or city. The best practice is to offer the same level of excellent service to all real estate consumers.

The Fair Housing Act

Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 is known as the Fair Housing Act. The law was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson on April 11, 1968.

The law prohibits discrimination in residential real estate-related transactions including brokering, financial, and appraisal services with the goal of ensuring that people who are renting, buying, or securing financing for housing are treated fairly. Fair housing laws are not only an important tool for eliminating discrimination against protected groups of people, but they can also help to strengthen families, communities, businesses, and the overall economy.

Modern Housing Discrimination

Although the Fair Housing Act was enacted over 50 years ago, housing discrimination is still a prevalent problem in the country. The Fair Housing Act is administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Every year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development investigates thousands of housing discrimination complaints based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. The Department of Justice (DOJ) assists with the enforcement of the Act, which is crucial to minimizing discrimination and ensuring fairness in housing.

Discrimination is both a legal and an ethical problem. When you, as a real estate professional, develop business practices that ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act and address diversity issues positively, you will help combat this problem. You will also, by “doing the right thing,” create a stronger, more lucrative business in the residential housing industry.

Examples of Housing Discrimination

Housing discrimination is sometimes very obvious — but often discrimination is more subtle. Below are a few examples of housing discrimination that would  violate the Fair Housing Act.

  • Someone finds an advertisement for an apartment. When they call or e-mail, they are told the apartment is available and they can come see it now. When the individual arrives to see the apartment, the landlord tells them, “Sorry, the apartment was just rented” even though it wasn’t.
  • A real estate agent only takes individuals to certain neighborhoods or certain homes within a neighborhood and not others, with an explanation like “We feel you’d fit in better in this neighborhood,” or “We’re not sure you’d be happy in that neighborhood.” This type of discrimination is known as “steering.”
  • An individual wants to buy homeowners insurance, but the insurance agent tells them they don’t write policies in their neighborhood or their part of town.
  • An apartment manager refuses to rent an apartment to a blind person with a guide dog because of a “no pets” policy.
  • A mortgage lender charges someone a higher interest rate to buy a home in a largely Latino neighborhood than in a largely white neighborhood.
  • A rental agent says he will not rent to any single women with children.

Note that discrimination and violations of the Fair Housing Act would likely include violations of other federal laws as well, such as other Titles of the Federal Civil Rights Act, the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Violence Against Women Act, and the Age Discrimination Act. Local and state laws would of course apply as well.

Why Is Fair Housing Important for Real Estate Professionals?

Real estate professionals have a responsibility to protect their clients’ best interests, the public interest, and their own business interests. This is why understanding the importance of fair housing and appreciating diversity is essential for real estate professionals.

Statistics show that consumers in the residential housing market continue to become more diverse, just like the general population of the United States. This diversity provides an opportunity for real estate professionals to grow their businesses. To be able to take advantage of this opportunity, professionals must develop or strengthen their understanding of cultural diversity and incorporate diversity into their business models.

The first step is recognizing the importance of diversity and being able to appreciate the unique differences among people. Choosing to embrace our diversity makes each of us stronger and can help professionals in the real estate industry better address consumer needs while avoiding discriminatory housing practices.

The National Association of REALTORS® also has a Fair Housing Declaration, which they encourage REALTORS® to print and post in their offices.

Learn more about Fair Housing for the Real Estate Industry

To learn more about the importance of fair housing, WebCE has created a convenient, online course, titled Fair Housing for the Real Estate Industry.

This course on fair housing was designed by industry experts specifically for real estate professionals. In this course, you will be able to:

  • review federal fair housing law protections
  • discuss key characteristics of protected classes
  • explore activities that constitute fair housing violations
  • learn how federal laws help prevent discrimination in real estate lending transactions

The course concludes with a discussion of business practices that real estate professionals can develop to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act and to grow their business by embracing diversity.

To order this course and more, visit the WebCE Real Estate CE Catalog.

Real Estate CE Catalog