Real Estate Agents: Is Your Ad Discriminatory?
By Sadiya Anjum
The Fair Housing Act has set guidelines to protect people from being discriminated on certain criteria which may hinder their right to reside in a home or area of their choice. Real estate agents need to have a thorough knowledge of this act so they do not commit any discriminatory action even by mistake. When it comes to advertising, the Act has specific guidelines determining what is or is not acceptable.
Agents often think of writing ads hoping to appeal to the nature of those most likely to buy a home like the one they are selling. While it is not discriminatory to outline a buyer’s profile in your mind, if the same is translated on paper it may prove to be disastrous. Some agents use words or phrases in an ad that may be prejudiced even though it is not the agent’s intention. But the ad is still a violation of the Fair Housing Act. Another case might be where a property is not in violation of the act but if the ad is phrased in a discriminatory manner, it still counts as a violation of the Act.
The guidelines for advertising under the Fair Housing Act come under section 804(c) which "prohibits the making, printing and publishing of advertisements which state a preference, limitation or discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin”. This is applicable to those who place the advertisement as well as to those who publish it.
It is pretty simple to understand the guideline but one may easily make a mistake while applying it. For instance, words describing the property or neighborhood as “exclusive” or “integrated” are unacceptable. It indicates a preference for a group or a kind of people that reside there.
As a general rule, avoid all words and phrases that suggest race, color, national origin and religion. But certain phrases which are used in a secular sense such as ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Santa Claus’ is acceptable. Any words or phrases which exclude or limit a handicapped person in the ad are again improper. You are allowed to describe a property in specific ways if it is user-friendly for those who are handicapped (eg. wheelchair access).
You may also not state any preferences or discriminate based on gender or family. You cannot say ‘adults only’, ‘singles’, couples’ and most definitely not mention ‘no children’ or the number of children. You may describe a property if it has a play area for children or any recreation facilities for them. Landmarks which indicate religion, ethnicity or race should not be mentioned.
It may seem like a lot to remember but you should if you do not want a complaint lodged against you. There are many words and phrases which we normally use without worrying about political correctness. But in an official setting (like when placing an ad) they may be unacceptable. Just be careful when using any words or phrases that may imply discrimination to any individual. Common sense will be of great aid at this point.
However, when in doubt, ask someone who is experienced to guide you. Or you can always place a disclaimer in your ad. This does not mean that you will be able to get away with any act of discrimination. Familiarize yourself with the Fair Housing Act and any state laws regarding the same. The best way to not get yourself into trouble is to concentrate on describing the property. Forget about who may or may not buy the property, compose the advertisement in such a manner that it focuses exclusively on the property and its features. Those who are likely to buy that property will anyway respond to the ad if they like what the property has to offer.
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