Fair Housing

REALTORS® are community leaders – That’s Who We Are®. You shape and help build neighborhoods that thrive. By promoting diversity and inclusion you unlock access to opportunities that transform lives and improve communities.

The Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS® (CCIAOR) opposes discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status (i.e. children), sexual orientation, gender identity, and national origin. This policy is embodied in NAR's Code of Ethics. CCIAOR also holds its members accountable in response to a finding that a member has violated any fair housing law, including local and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

CCIAOR Statement on Racism in Real Estate

Fair Housing Law and the REALTOR® Code of Ethics

National Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act, enacted on April 11, 1968, enshrined into federal law the goal of eliminating racial segregation and ending housing discrimination in the United States. It shields people of protected classes from discrimination when they are renting or buying a home, getting a mortgage, seeking housing assistance, or engaging in other housing-related activities. Additional protections apply to federally-assisted housing.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability, as they are protected classes under the federal law.

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a Federal agency established in 1965 that is responsible for national policy and programs that address America's housing needs and help to improve and develop the nation's communities as well as enforcement of fair housing laws.

Massachusetts Fair Housing Law

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has its own law that prohibits discrimination in the sale, or rental of housing by property owners, landlords, property managers, mortgage lenders, and real estate agents. This law contains additional protected classes not currently covered by federal law. They include: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (i.e. children), disability, source of income (e.g. a Section 8 voucher), sexual orientation, gender identity, age, marital status, veteran or active military status, genetic information.

Additionally in Massachusetts property owners are obligated to abate lead paint hazards in any rental unit occupied by a child under age six. Importantly, property owners cannot avoid this obligation by rejecting families with children. It is against Massachusetts law for a landlord or a real estate agent to refuse to rent to someone because he/she has (or is expecting) a child or because the property contains lead.

REALTOR® Code of Ethics

REALTORS® and REALTOR® Associations at the local, state, and national level are firmly committed to combating discrimination in real estate. The REALTOR® Code of Ethics provides protection to consumers in regards to discrimination in real estate.

Article 10 of the REALTOR® Code of Ethics reads:

REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

REALTORS®, in their real estate employment practices, shall not discriminate against any person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identities.

Through the Professional Standards process, the Cape Cod & Islands Association of REALTORS enforces the Code of Ethics and any complaints of violations of the code made from consumers or REALTORS against a CCIAOR REALTOR member.

Protected Classes

The following chart shows a list of protected classes under federal and state law as well as the Code of Ethics

Working With Clients

As a REALTOR® , consistency is key to ensuring you are treating each person with respect. Each client needs to be treated the same and should be offered the same services. It is often when we are not consistent with our treatment of clients that someone could feel they are being discriminated against.

In 2019, the ‘Long Island Divided’ investigation by Newsday made national news after testing 93 real estate agents and finding widespread evidence of unequal treatment based on race and steering clients to certain neighborhoods on the basis of race.

The following topics are important to understand to ensure you are treating all clients equally and lawfully.

Implicit Bias is how the human brain’s automatic, instant association of stereotypes with particular groups can cause people to treat those who are different from them unfairly. Scientific evidence also suggests these biases persist despite people’s best intentions and often without conscious awareness.

NAR has partnered with the New York-Based Perception Institute for a new training video that draws upon that research to illustrate how implicit bias occurs.

NAR Training on Implicit Bias

“Steering” is the practice of influencing a buyer’s choice of communities based upon one of the protected characteristics under the Fair Housing Act (race, color, religion, gender, disability, familial status, or national origin). Steering is expressly prohibited under the Fair Housing Act.

Steering occurs, for example, when real estate agents do not tell buyers about available properties that meet their criteria, or express views about communities with the purpose of directing buyers away from or towards certain neighborhoods due to their race or other protected characteristic. If a client requests a “nice,” “good,” or “safe” neighborhood, a real estate professional could unintentionally steer a client by excluding certain areas based on his or her own perceptions of what those terms mean.

How to Steer Clear of Steering

The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful to refuse to make reasonable accommodations to rules, policies, practices, or services when such accommodations may be necessary to afford persons with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling and public and common use areas. In addition, the Fair Housing Act prohibits a housing provider from refusing to permit, at the expense of the person with a disability, reasonable modifications of existing premises occupied or to be occupied by such person if such modifications may be necessary to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises.

HUD defines a "reasonable accommodation" as a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that may be necessary for a person with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces, or to fulfill their program obligations. The 'reasonable accommodation' is used correspondingly with 'modifications' under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

HUD's Resource on Reasonable Accommodations

HUD issued new guidance on January 28, 2020, which does not change the laws but helps clarify how to handle certain situations. Under the ADA, “service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the individual's disability.”

The guidance differentiates between those animals which are commonly kept in the household and those animals which may be considered unique. If an animal is commonly kept in a household, such as a dog, cat, small bird, rabbit, hamster, gerbil, other rodent, fish, turtle, or other small domesticated animal, the reasonable accommodation should be granted if the requestor has provided reliable information confirming the disability-related need for the animal. In those situations where the accommodation request is for a unique animal, the person making the request then has a “substantial burden of demonstrating a disability-related therapeutic need for the specific animal of the specific type of animal.”

HUD's Guidance on Service Animals

As the seller's market increased over the past few years, so did the popularity of buyer “love letters”. Due to the potential violations of the fair housing act for both the agent and their clients, NAR & MAR have strongly recommended against the use of buyer love letters.

Though love letters seem like a great tactic to give your clients an edge, they could be doing more harm than good. In a letter, buyers could be providing a variety of personal information, much of which could fall into a protected class, such as race, religion, or familial status. The seller could knowingly or unknowingly discriminate against the buyer based on the information disclosed in the letter. On the flip side, if the seller decides to sell to a prospective buyer who provides a love letter, another prospective buyer for the home who made a better offer might claim that the sale was wrongly influenced by demographic information contained in the love letter, possible triggering anti-discrimination provisions of the Fair Housing Act.

A conversation should be had with your client, buyer, or seller, about the legal implications of including a “love letter” with their offer. It is important to note that if your seller decides to go against your advice and accept a buyer's letter if they read one they must read them all. One of the key aspects of not violating the Fair Housing Act is consistently treating everyone the same.

Importantly, if you believe your seller is rejecting the best offer based on discriminatory factors, you as the agent have a legal and moral duty to speak with the seller and to do everything you can to ensure the seller’s decision is solely based on the objective factors of the offer.

To help aid you in the process of educating and protecting your clients, MAR has created two forms - Fair Housing Considerations Regarding Buyer Letters (Form #524) and Seller Instructions Regarding Buyer Letters (Form #525.)

Love Letters or Liability Letters?

Legal Hotline: Am I Obligated to Present Buyer 'Love Letters?'

A Heart to Heart About Love Letters with Leigh Brown

Marketing & Advertising

Federal law requires that applicants for participation in HUD’s subsidized and unsubsidized housing programs pursue affirmative fair housing marketing policies.

Though the Equal Opportunity Logo is not required, it is a best practice to include it in any applicable advertisement. According to HUD guidelines, all advertising of residential real estate for sale or rent should contain an equal housing opportunity logo, statement, or slogan as a means of educating the home-seeking public that the property is available to all persons.

Most agents are selective in which print advertising they chose to use, given today's technological options. Niche marketing can be helpful when marketing a specific type of property but should not target a specific demographic, unless additional marketing is being printed elsewhere as well.

For example, listing a property in a magazine or mailer that only targets singles, could be a violation of the Fair Housing Act if the property is not advertised in other ways more broadly. There is an exception for communities that are restricted to 55+ senior living communities.

Fair Housing laws also apply to social media and can trip up brokerages and licensees, especially in the use of targeted advertising. Many social media platforms, like Facebook, may require you to note that it is a housing ad and then eliminate many criteria

When creating an ad for real estate on Facebook, be sure to select real estate from the Special Ad Categories or else your ad will not run. Selecting this will ensure that you only have access to targeting tools that conform to Fair Housing and anti-discrimination guidelines. For instance, when advertising real estate, you may select a 15 mile radius around a property’s location, but are no longer allowed to select specific zip codes. It is best to be inclusive rather than exclusive with ad targeting to avoid triggering a fair housing violation.

Real estate websites is marketing and should comply with the Fair Housing Act in terms of language. However, in regards to accessibility for the disabled, there is not clarity in regards to how it applies to the Fair Housing Act. There are no federal regulations or controlling court decisions under the FHA concerning website accessibility for the disabled.

Organizations that advocate for the disabled have written about problems encountered by the blind in searching for and procuring housing (particularly rental housing) if properties are only available through websites that the blind cannot access. There have been recent demand letters sent to real estate brokerages around the country regarding the accessibility of their websites for the blind citing the Fair Housing Act.

Classes & Trainings

To help REALTORS® better understand fair housing, discrimination and implicit bias, NAR has launched Fairhaven, an online interactive experience where REALTORS® are presented with situations with that will challenge their preconceived notions about these subjects.

The mind science experts at the Perception Institute partnered with NAR to present an online workshop to help members override implicit bias in their everyday interactions in order to convey respect, ensure fairness, and improve their business.

Latest News on Fair Housing