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When It Comes to Fair Housing, What Can You Say?

When It Comes to Fair Housing, What Can You Say?


Written By: Bob Hunt
Thursday, May 29, 2014

Some myths take on a life of their own. Not only do they refuse to die, but also they grow and expand. Recently, it has come to our attention that this seems to be true of what we might call the real estate myth of prohibited language. Like most myths, it began in a truth. The truth was, and is, that Section 804c of the Fair Housing Act "prohibits the making, printing, and publishing of advertisements which state a preference, limitation or discrimination on the basis of race, color, >

What is the myth? It is the belief that the Fair Housing Act prohibits the use of any words or phrases that could conceivably offend someone or that could in any way, shape, or form suggest that the >

It has been almost twenty years since the Department of Housing and Urban Development HUD issued a memorandum, HUD Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under Section 804c of the Fair Housing Act, which was designed to put the myth to rest. Alas, the myth seems to have had greater staying power. While the memorandum is still official HUD policy, many people in the real estate community -- including those who police the MLS -- seem to be oblivious to it. Fortunately, the memo is readily available as an appendix in the National Association of REALTORS NAR publication, Fair Housing Handbook.

The memorandum addresses wording issues as they arise with respect to the various seven protected >

1. Race, color, or national origin: "Use of words describing the housing, the current or potential residents or the neighbors or neighborhood in racial or ethnic terms i.e., white family home, no Irish will create liability under this section. However, advertisements which are facially [apparently] neutral will not create liability. Thus, complaints over use of phrases such as master bedroom, rare find, or desirable neighborhood should not be filed."

2. >"Advertisements should not contain an explicit preference, limitation or discrimination on account of >

3. Sex: " Use of the term master bedroom does not constitute a violation of either the sex discrimination provisions or the race discrimination provisions. Terms such as "mother-in-law suite" and "bachelor apartment" are commonly used as physical descriptions of housing units and do not violate the Act."

4. Handicap: "Advertisements containing descriptions of properties great view, fourth floor walkup, walk-in closets, services or facilities jogging trails or neighborhoods walk to bus stop do not violate the Act"

5. Familial status: "Advertisements describing the properties two bedroom, cozy, family room, services and facilities no bicycles allowed or neighborhoods quiet streets are not facially discriminatory and do not violate the Act."

So there you have it. Straight from your government. Something sensible. Savor it and pass the word. Myth busters, unite.

Bob Hunt is a director of the California Association of Realtors. He is the author of Real Estate the Ethical Way.



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