There are so many rules and regulations you must know and follow to avoid potential legal issues that it can be overwhelming. The risk of facing litigation is only exacerbated by The Fair Housing Act – a set of laws put into place to protect renters and buyers from housing discrimination. Unfortunately, accidentally violating the act is easier than you might realize. In fact, a seemingly harmless question can be prosecutable in the eyes of the law.
Follow these 4 simple steps to protect yourself:
Know the Rules:The Fair Housing Act (FHA) strictly prohibits the printing, making or publishing of ads that state a preference, discrimination or limitation based on color, race, sex, religion, handicap, national origin or familial status. The FHA is mandated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) – but there are also state laws that vary. Make sure you know your stuff forward and backward to avoid fair housing violations!
Choose Your Words Carefully:Anytime you put something in writing, make sure you are not including alienating or discriminatory language. Something as simple as, “Perfect starter home for a small family” is alienating to potential buyers who don’t fall into that family status or category – which is a violation of the FHA. Words like “exclusive” or “quiet” – and any words or phrases that mention a particular age group or subset of people are also strictly prohibited. To be safe, omit any words that describe a potential tenant or type of tenant and instead stick to describing property features only.
Use Safe, Open-Ended Questions:When you meet with a new client, phrase your questions carefully. Here’s an example: It is unlawful to overtly inquire about socio-economic or family status, so instead of asking what income level your potential buyers are at - ask what price range they are considering for a home purchase. Instead of asking about family, ask what their hobbies are or what types of activities they enjoy. Most of the time, open questions will produce the answers you need to cater your search without violating any FHA laws.
Always Document Client Communications:Sometimes, you’ll complete a transaction with a client and everything will go smoothly – then years later, you get a notification that your previously satisfied client is now coming after you for a violation. Keeping detailed notes with dates and timestamps on all client communications will be your saving grace if you ever find yourself in this type of legal bind. For best results, follow these file organization best practices and keep client files on hand and safely secured so you have all the evidence you need to protect yourself.
Most importantly, always be informed and aware of your communications to avoid having a simple mistake become a costly one.