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Dream Big!

Help find a dream community without breaking the law

By Margy Grant
 

June 19, 2017 – There's a fine line between "advising" and "unlawful conduct" under the Fair Housing Act.

When a buyer asks for neighborhood recommendations, respond cautiously. It's possible to accidentally violate the Fair Housing Act by steering buyers toward, or away from, certain neighborhoods. But the fair housing rules are critical and sometimes a buyer just does not understand the full spectrum of these rules. We can't change who they are or what they're looking for in a new home.

One way to stay out of harm's way with fair housing, however, is to become the source of the source of information rather than the primary source. Here are four different ways to stay on the right side of the Fair Housing Act:

  • Ask the buyer and about family activities or hobbies. This can help you suggest areas that would fit their lifestyle and avoid suggesting options based on their religion, ethnicity or other dangerous areas. Hikers may want to live close to mountains or parks, for example; ocean lovers will look for places near the shore.
  • If a family asks about schools, recommend that they check the online school district and community resources. This will help them understand school boundaries and identify nearby charter schools. If they're looking for private schools, encourage them to speak to coworkers or friends in the area.
  • Many times, buyers want the down-and-dirty details on neighborhoods, such as crime rates. In these cases, refer them to the local police or city commission website. Many update this information regularly.
  • Under no circumstances should you make any generalizations about the character or demographic makeup of a neighborhood. A statement like "this is a very Christian area – everyone is extremely committed to family values" can be considered steering.

Part of locating a home is creating a relationship where you and the buyer become very familiar with each other. Realtors often become close friends with their buyers and help introduce them to the community. This is human nature at its best, and a top reason why Realtors are so essential in communities. But practitioners must be careful not violate the fair housing laws.

So, what's a Realtor supposed to do when a buyer continues asking inappropriate questions?

Start by setting expectations at the beginning. If a buyer continues with inappropriate questions, explain that the fair housing laws preclude you from providing that information.

Fair housing violations

Please remember that fair housing testers are in the field, and follow these simple guidelines to protect yourself.

A violation can be expensive: In August 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) increased the fines for fair housing violations. A first-time violation is subject to a civil penalty of more than $19,000; subsequent fines can amount to almost $100,000 plus attorney fees and costs. But the cost could be even higher. These fines are in addition to actual damages suffered by the person filing the complaint.

Further, HUD keeps a record of all violations and makes them publicly available.

If you're not sure about a certain question or action under the fair housing laws, please contact the Florida Realtors legal hotline at 407.438.1409 and speak to an attorney free of charge about the issue. This call is free – a member benefit when you became a member of the Florida Realtors family.

Margy Grant is General Counsel of Florida Realtors

Source: National Association of Realtors®

© 2017 Florida Realtors

Related Topics: Florida Realtors Legal News