History of The Law
Fair housing is national policy and the law of the land. The Civil Rights Act provided that "all citizens of the United States shall have the same right ... to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real property." In 1968 the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed this law, finding that "all racial discrimination, private as well as public, in the sale or rental of property" is illegal. Also in 1968 Congress passed the Federal Fair Housing Law. Known as Title VIII, this law prohibits the following acts, when based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status or handicap.
Discrimination in selling, leasing, renting, brokering, negotiating for, advertising, or financing property. Steering home seekers on the basis of race, the effect of which is to limit choice. Limiting or changing the terms, conditions, privileges, use of facilities or provisions of services associated with real estate Applying more stringent qualifying terms. Misrepresenting the availability of a unit or home. Real estate agents discussing an area's racial composition, when it has the effect of discouraging home seeker's choice. Panic peddling (blockbusting) - attempting, for profit, to generate listings by referring to actual or prospective racial change in an area. Harassing buyers, renters, landlords, real estate agents or sellers exercising their fair housing rights or responsibilities.
Penaltied For Violating The Laws
All parties to a real estate transaction, including agents, brokers, manager and owners are potentially liable where discrimination is found. Consequences for violating fair housing law are serious. Courts can block the sale or rental of a unit if an allegation of discrimination is made. A finding of discrimination can result in substantial monetary damages against the offender, to deter future violations and compensate the victim. Additionally, courts can award attorney's fees which are often expensive. Awards and settlements of tens of thousands of dollars are not uncommon and awards of hundreds of thousands of dollars are not unheard of. Real estate agents or brokers who discriminate also run the risk of losing their real estate license.
Suggestions For Agents
1. Standardize procedures for qualifying customers, determining housing needs and showing, renting and/or selling houses and apartments. 2. Maintan accurate records, utilizing an equal service report form. 3. Make available a wide range of properties to maximize choice and to avoid even unintentional steering. 4. Train all staff in fair housing law and practices. 5. Advertise consistent with federal rules and regulations. 6. Use an equal housing opportunity logo or statement on all promotional materials. 7. Avoid discussing racial composition issues that might discourage a home seeker's consideration of an area. 8. When questions arise and there is uncertainty in handling the situation or question, contact HOND for further assistance.