Are The Fair Housing Laws Unconstitutional? Probably.

Real Estate Agent with RLAH Real Estate AB95346

Are The Fair Housing Laws Unconstitutional?  Probably.

Yesterday, Karen Fiddler wrote a featured post, I Can't Tell You That....The Fair Housing Act Lost Me A Client, But I Keep My License.  Karen talks about a situation that many of us find ourselves in all too often, and she did the right thing as far as following the letter of the law. 

But was it the right thing for the clients?

Let me start off by saying that I have no problem whatsoever with what I think the purpose of these laws are: to keep home buyers from being kept out of a neighborhood they want to live in because of their looks, religion, or issues that are among the various "protected classes" in state and federal laws.  Many of them were passed during a period when blockbusting, steering, and even restrictive covenants were working to keep various ethnic and religious groups out of some neighborhoods where they wanted to live - bad and wrong, we can all agree.

But fast forward to today and they way we are being trained to interpret our responsibilities under these laws.

What about people who want to live in the gayborhood?  Or not?  Or if they want to be sure they are buying a home in an area where their neighbors won't resent their living there?  What if they are looking for a place among other young families with young children theirs can play with?  What if they want to live in a community with other people who speak their native languages?

They cannot have that conversation with the one person they are trusting to help them find their perfect place?   When my mother was looking for a new place, I couldn't this conversation with her!

One of my clients is a prominent attorney who has taught at some of the nation's top law schools.  When he and his wife were looking for a place in downtown DC, he was incredulous.  These laws, he believes, are a huge infringement upon the right of free speech.  And he is probably right.

I am certainly not advocating that we begin to freely exercise this possible right of free speech and jeopardize our real estate licenses in the process.  But I do think it's time for state and local legislators to take another look at these laws to try to figure out a better way to accomplish the intent - eliminating housing discrimination - while removing some of the unintended consequences that make it harder for us to provide a high level of service to our clients, no matter who they are or where they want to live.


Re-Blogged 1 time:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Anne Clark 11/05/2010 04:09 PM
Home Buying
Activerain Attorneys
WeBlog Anything (almost)!
constitutionality of fair housing laws
fair housing laws and the first amendment

Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Spam prevention
Show All Comments
Anne Clark
Metro Referrals - Gainesville, VA

The way the Fair Housing Laws are interpreted is yet another example of political correctness gone nuts.  Discrimination is a bad thing, but not allowing agents to help buyers find what they want is just silly.  I'm with your attorney friend.

Nov 05, 2010 04:08 PM #30
Maria Morton
Chartwell Kansas City Realty - Kansas City, MO
Kansas City Real Estate 816-560-3758

Like everyone else here, I understand the rationale for the Fair Housing Laws but also think that not being able to use the phrase 'within walking distance' in relation to a property is ludicrous. Politiaclly correct speech has become a burden and a barrier to meaningful communication.


Nov 05, 2010 04:31 PM #31
Barbara Chatterton
The Stark Company Realtors, Madison WI - Madison, WI
Greater Madison Wisconsin Area Realtor

Excellent thought provoking post which will generate lots more thought and lots more comments, too.  I have had the same question posed about being a mixed race couple not wanting to be discriminated against.  I believe in how necessary fair housing is but our goals not to discriminate may include variations of what the laws and codes dictate as unwavering.  I think some changes would be in order but I imagine it would take years of working on something like this to be equitable.  Quite a conundrum.

Nov 05, 2010 05:33 PM #32
Fran Gatti
RE/MAX Integrity - Medford, OR
Managing Principal Broker - RE/MAX Integrity

Amen.  I agree.  Great post.

Nov 05, 2010 06:08 PM #33
Cheryl Ritchie
RE/MAX Leading Edge - Huntingtown, MD
Southern Maryland 301-980-7566

I did not catch that post so thanks for highlighting this concept. Freedom of speech is an interesting angle to the laws.

Nov 05, 2010 07:02 PM #34
Jay Markanich
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC - Bristow, VA
Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia

Of course your attorney friend is right - kids come in for free, ladies night, senior citizen discounts - they are all discriminatory and unconstitutional.  But there are reasons for all those things - based in economics and not in political correctness.

Nov 06, 2010 02:48 AM #35
Patricia Kennedy
RLAH Real Estate - Washington, DC
Home in the Capital

Shelly, I agree with John, too.  If people want to self-segregate, that's one thing.  And if they do not, they certainly shouldn't face discrimination in their search for a place to live. 

Marie, I'd explain that they would have to get the information from someone without a real estate license, and they could always check out the Census Bureau's web site.

Lenn, that must be a big letter collection!  And I think most of us are very cautious in this area - good idea!

Michael, my former brokerage had a fabulous guy come in for a fair housing seminar, and I remember sitting next to my broker thinking, "I'm going to jail!"  I had pointed out that there were 22 children below the age of 6 on a block in my neighborhood.  She had two children under 6 and was pretty ecstatic.  Oops!  Bad Pat!

Mitchell, coops are an interesting case in point.  I once represented a couple who were having an interesting time with the board at the Watergate, and the listing agent had an even more interesting conversation with the board president.  They got in, but were really, really scrutinized.

Frank, I think it is important to follow the law and to be overly cautious about it.  None of us wants to be the test case, after all!

Melina, some of the fair housing centers around the country may go over the top, but they do have some great educational programs for the real estate community.


Nov 06, 2010 03:20 AM #36
Sarah, John Rummage
Benchmark Realty LLC, Nashville TN 615.516.5233 - Nashville, TN
Love Being Realtors® in the Nashville TN Area!

These laws are cumbersome and confusing sometimes, but I am amazed at how much information buyers have regarding the neighborhoods they want to live in for their particular lifestyle and they tell ME.

I know one investor who teaches English as a second language, and one nationality primarily rents from her. Word of mouth.


Nov 06, 2010 03:27 AM #37
Erica Ramus
Erica Ramus - Ramus Realty Group - Pottsville, PA - Pottsville, PA
MRE, Schuylkill County PA Real Estate

I had one recently where the woman wanted to be within walking distance to a Catholic church. We drove around in the car to determine "walking distance" and then found her a nice little house. This stuff can be crazy!

Nov 06, 2010 03:32 AM #38
Jason Sardi
Auto & Home & Life Insurance throughout North Carolina - Charlotte, NC
Your Agent for Life

As long as my neighbor isn't Jeff Belonger, I'm cool.

Nov 06, 2010 04:00 AM #39
Cathy McAlister
Cathy Ashley McAlister, GRI CDPE - Broker / Sacramento - Sacramento, CA
Sacramento DRE#00648507

One of the biggest reasons agents lose clients is because we did not show them the homes they desired.   I understand the original intent of the law,  and a client request due to their personal comfort would seem within reason.

Nov 06, 2010 04:57 AM #40
Karen Fiddler, Broker/Owner
Karen Parsons-Fiddler, Broker 949-510-2395 - Mission Viejo, CA
Orange County & Lake Arrowhead, CA (949)510-2395

Hi there.....I'm glad you are continuing this conversation. And I completely agree with you...when I had young kids, I wanted to live in a family-friendly area. Now? not so much! I mentioned in my post that now I'd like to live in an Italian neighborhood simply for the food. Too bad my agent won't tell me where all the Italians live.

Nov 06, 2010 05:21 AM #41
Glenn Roberts
Retired - Seattle, WA

There is a class going around that teaches agents how to deal with different ethnicity's and I wonder about that. Should I treat a Chinese person differently than I treat an Italian, because of where they came from?

That could be interpreted as discrimination by someone who felt slighted. 

I ask the client who suggests a "type" of neighborhood they want to give me a price and size house they want and they can knock on doors to see if they want that neighborhood. Seems to work for me.

Nov 06, 2010 05:56 AM #42
Tni LeBlanc, Realtor®, J.D.
Mint Properties, Lic. #01871795 - Santa Maria, CA
Tenacious Tni (805) 878-9879

Real estate agents lost the ability to have these kinds of conversations because as a group they abused it.  That's the bottom line.  And they continue to abuse it.  Yes, it is an infringement of free speech, but what is the alternative?  Unfortunately, not everyone has good intentions and steering is a big problem.  There are always those who will help you along and show you where you belong.

Nov 06, 2010 06:10 AM #43
Matt Stigliano
Kimberly Howell Properties (210) 646-HOME - San Antonio, TX

Patricia - I mentioned this post in a post I wrote this morning...thought you'd like to know.

Discrimination and Fair Housing Laws

PS I know some people don't like links in their comments, so feel free to delete this if you prefer a no-link comments section.

Nov 06, 2010 07:28 AM #44
Susan Haughton
Long and Foster REALTORS (703) 470-4545 - Alexandria, VA
Susan & Mindy Team...Honesty. Integrity. Results.

I have thoroughly reading the comments, which were quite varied and very interesting.  Clients do not understand why we cannot help them figure out where they are going to be most comfortable;  I have always thought the intent of the legislation should be to criminalize discrimination, however, as is usually true with most legislation designed to change behavior, it has gone overboard and prohibited us from providing useful information even when there is no real or imagined discrimation intended!

Nov 06, 2010 05:30 PM #45
Scott Fogleman
New Home Team 804-573-9592 - Richmond, VA
New Home Team

This is a tough topic, we want to help each client but not get into any issues. I have refuesd to answer several questions due to "fair housing laws". While I have a good grasp of the laws, I play extra safe bcause I do not want the potiential issues.

Nov 06, 2010 11:15 PM #46
Pamela Seley
West Coast Realty Division - Murrieta, CA
Residential Real Estate Agent serving SW RivCo CA

Great post and discussion.  I am in agreement with Broker Bryant.  If a client asked me to find them a house within walking distance of a synagogue, I would.  I've had clients ask me to find them a house within walking distance of a certain elementary school.  Is that steering?  I don't think so.  Those are the client's wants and/or needs. 

Also, I agree with @Lenn  #20  It's steering if it's the agent's preference for the buyer. 

Nov 07, 2010 10:21 AM #48
Ron Parise - Cape Coral, FL


Im going to go out on a limb here and suggest you are looking at the fair housing laws a little too carefully and seeing things that arent there. its discrimination thats against the law,  not steering. steering is but one example of things that are discriminatory.  But what is steering??


Heres my definition: Steering is an action by a real estate agent or broker to either advise a client to purchase in a particular area on the basis of their membership in a particular class, or failing to expose the client to a neighborhood that meets their criteria because of their membership in a protected class

Whats important to me here is  an action by a broker or agent....A client is not guilty of a crime, and neither are we if they steer themselves

If a client asks for a neighborhood with specific demographics it is not discrimination (and not a crime) for us to actively help them find it

Nov 08, 2010 01:12 AM #49
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Fair Housing laws have survived a great many constitutional challenges.  No doubt there will be more.  In the meantime, the political climate suggests they make great material for some to complain about.

Nov 13, 2010 04:42 PM #50
Post a Comment
Spam prevention
Show All Comments

What's the reason you're reporting this blog entry?

Are you sure you want to report this blog entry as spam?


Patricia Kennedy

Home in the Capital
Ask me a question
Spam prevention

Additional Information