Interview With HUD Enforcement Division Spokesman - HUD Monitoring the Internet for Fair Housing Violations

By
Real Estate Broker/Owner with Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes

After several weeks of telephone tag and email exchanges, I was granted a telephone interview today with Bryan Greene, HUD Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Enforcement Division in Washington, D.C.

I had earlier forwarded by email a list of questions for HUD that were submitted by Active Rain members in mid-September.  The HUD official had the opportunity to look these over and therefore he was prepared for my questions in advance.

Since so many of the questions from AR members were anecdotal, Bryan suggested that all questions related to specific incidents or how to deal with a specific request from a consumer should be directed to the HUD Discrimination Hotline, at 1-800-669-9777.  An inquiry may also be directed to the HUD website for answers, at www.hud.gov/fairhousing.

During the course of our interview, the HUD official brought up the following points:

  • HUD is actively watching the Web, looking for instances of non-compliance with Fair Housing Laws.  Mr. Greene said "if we see violations on the Web, or if violations are reported to us, we investigate".  He mentioned that there is currently a pending investigation of a real estate company which is allegedly involved in religious discrimination.  The information behind that investigation came from the Internet.
  • HUD expects real estate professionals to report others who violate Fair Housing Laws.  Mr. Greene commented that "if an individual remains mute and fails to report a violation, that may be a violation in itself".  HUD wants real estate professionals to police the industry themselves and that includes reporting "all discriminatory acts".
  • HUD says Fair Housing complaints are on the rise, particularly over the past two years. HUD gathers statistical information on complaints and they plan a 2010 study which will track changes in complaint reporting over the current decade.
  • Non-licensees are just as liable to be prosecuted as those who hold a license.  That includes people in related industries such as home staging.

Mr. Greene noted that real estate licensees should acquaint themselves with the Federal protected classes and the bases on which discrimination complaints are founded.  I brought up that many member questions dealt with issues of schools, crime statistics and other social information.  He replied that questions about social issues "are sometimes a proxy for prohibited issues" and mentioned the need to be aware when a consumer question crosses that line.

I'd like to thank Bryan Greene of HUD and Ms. Shantae Goodloe in the HUD Office of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., for setting up this interview.  I'd also like to thank Ms. Jamie Pedraza, Director of the Minneapolis HUD Field Office, for her assistance in making the interview possible. 

You'll find information that lead to this post in the following previous posts;

Contribute Your Questions for HUD Interview - Opportunity to Ask HUD Your Fair Housing Questions!

Is it Condoning Racism to Ignore It?  It's Time to Speak Out on Fair Housing Laws and Issues!

Why is my Agent So Vague? (by Charles McDonald)

Copyright © 2007 by Eric Kodner, All Rights Reserved

 

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Contact Broker Eric Kodner with Wayzata Lakes Realty about Minneapolis & Saint Paul area properties, including Lake Minnetonka, Edina and the Minneapolis City Lakes area (Lake Calhoun, Lake of the Isles, Lake Harriet). We also sell on the Saint Croix River and on Lake Superior, including Bayfield, Wisconsin and Madeline Island homes.  With sixteen years experience marketing and selling waterfront properties in Minnesota and Wisconsin, we know Lake Minnetonka and Madeline Island real estate.

Wayzata Lakes Realty LLC (Minnesota) and Madeline Island Realty LLC (Wisconsin)

Real Estate Brokerage licensed in Minnesota & Wisconsin

Phone or Text Message 612.670.2539

EMKodner@Gmail.com  or

MadelineIsland@Gmail.com

Wayzata Lakes Realty

 

 

 

 

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Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Lola -- HUD has made it clear that they expect the same compliance with Fair Housing from everyone, regardless of whether they are a licensee or not.  Of course, the Code of Ethics and State/Municipal laws and related penalties are involved as well.  It's clear that anyone who violates Fair Housing can find themselves in a lot of trouble in a hurry!

Joan -- For some reason, housing discrimination claims have surged during the past couple of years.  These things seem to run in cycles.  I don't know if anyone has done a study that explains why the problem keeps coming back.

Jackie -- I think the HUD spokesperson's statement was a reaction to a comment made on Active Rain by a non-licensee who boasted that he is not affected by Fair Housing laws. 

Oct 18, 2007 01:15 AM #22
Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Margaret -- I agree it's ironic to find one cabinet-level department calling on us to help put an end to housing discrimination and another department bringing accusations against our industry regarding so-called anticompetitive practices.

I think it's a lesson learned that we need to remember the transparency of blogging, not to mention anything we upload to the Web.  Social communities have a very seductive way of luring some participants into a false sense of security about the privacy of blogs and comments.  But there is nothing very private about the Internet!

 

Oct 18, 2007 01:25 AM #23
Rainer
46,282
Jackie Peraza
Perceptions AdverStaging(TM), LLC - Framingham, MA
Home Stager - Framingham, Massachusetts

Eric - I'm thankful I missed any comment that was made to that effect - candidly, it's unacceptable.

You have brought to light important information - we are in an industry that though "certifies" or "accredits" very easily teaches nothing about fair housing laws and our indirect role in obeying them.  Of course it makes sense we'd be held to compliance.  Thank you again.

Jackie

Oct 18, 2007 02:11 AM #24
Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Diane, thank you for commenting!  I think occasional reminders are valuable to all of us.

Jackie -- There's an awful lot of confusion and misinformation on the part of agents (and non-agents) regarding Fair Housing law.   It's too bad there isn't more uniformity in the teaching of anti-discrimination on a nationwide basis. 

Thanks for your comments! 

Oct 18, 2007 02:40 AM #25
Rainer
15,019
Terri Habecker
AIG, Allied, Fireman's Fund, CNA, Travelers,The Hartford, Pr - Dana Point, CA
Life Matters & So Does Your Insurance Co
Good post!  As an Insurance agent, not only are we required by law to follow anti discrimination laws, but I feel it adds to the Success and Professional focus of my Agency.  
Oct 18, 2007 02:45 AM #26
Ambassador
4,220,824
Jeff Dowler, CRS
eXp Realty of California - Carlsbad, CA
The Southern California Relocation Dude

Interesting, Eric. Guess I agree that while HUD shared a bit in their interview with you it is rather vague. No real definitive answers. Not sure we learned much other than they are policing more, problems are on the rise ( no surprise). It is good to keep in mind that the Internet is such a powerful source of information, good and bad. Great reminder to us bloggers about what we put out there.

Jeff

Oct 18, 2007 02:56 AM #27
Ambassador
891,536
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

Eric.  I'm disappointed but not surprised that the HUD official wouldn't answer any actual questions.  I'm also not surprised that they would like for us to do all of the policing.  And, while I would certainly report any violation I was directly aware of, just as he wouldn't answer questions because there might be other facts, we are not compliance and enforcement officers.  We are not expected to call 9-1-1 every time we see a speeder.  If we see a suspected drunk, we won't be prosecuted for complicity if we don't report them.  It would be a responsible thing to do, better for us and the community (I have made that call on the highway more than once), but unless we are directly involved, it shouldn't be for us to report or face criminal or civil penalties.  

I appreciate the effort you went through to get this much info from HUD.  I know it wasn't easy.  I also know that you are working in the best interests of all of us.  

Thank you.   

 

Oct 18, 2007 03:25 AM #28
Rainer
96,751
New Jersey Real Estate James Boyer Morris, Essex & Union County NJ Realtor
RE/MAX Properties Unlimited, Real Estate - Morristown, NJ
Eric, I agree with Bill "I was really hoping for some good definitive answers, not "He replied that questions about social issues "are sometimes a proxy for prohibited issues" and mentioned the need to be aware when a consumer question crosses that line."  Yeah right! Why not specify the line because these questions do keep coming up.

Bill Roberts"

 

More info needed, HUD is one of those gov't organizations that is not transparant enough for my liking.  Personally I would not shed many tiers if congress defunded them.

Oct 18, 2007 04:45 AM #29
Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Terri -- Awareness of anti-discrimination laws is good for business, in addition to being required in our respective professions!

Jeff -- It's significant that the Web is being watched for violations.  I suppose there are other Federal agencies that watch the Internet for illegal activity in other ares, like Anti-trust or fraud.  Having a presence on the Web is a double-edged sword!  You have to be online to be successful, but it puts you under a microscope at the same time.

Oct 18, 2007 05:51 AM #30
Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Lane -- Realistically, there's probably no way that any government agency can gather the information they need without the help of the public.  The good thing is that we can inform the consumer who asks us to violate the law that we are bound by law to enforce and report anti-discrimination.  If we share that information with them at the first sign of trouble and they change their attitude, then there's nothing to report.

It took a lot of courage for that First Weber agent in Milwaukee to report a colleague and homeowner recently.  I found that HUD bulletin interesting.  Here's the link again for anyone who missed it in the thread above:

http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/enforcement/silkey-media-advisory.pdf 

Oct 18, 2007 06:06 AM #31
Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island
James -- I suppose all Federal agencies lack transparency to a degree.  We don't learn much about the inner workings of the FBI or the CIA, for example, until there's controversy that puts them in the spotlight.
Oct 18, 2007 06:08 AM #32
Ambassador
891,536
Lane Bailey
Century 21 Results Realty - Suwanee, GA
Realtor & Car Guy

Eric, I don't think that HUD needs to cling to the secrecy of the CIA or the FBI in order to operate.  At least not while stating policy.  It would be one thing if you were asking who their plants and undercover folks were.  It is another entirely to not answer questions about specific situations.  It is easy enough (as any lawyer would) to preface an answer with "based on the information as presented, it would suggest that..."  and follow that with "...but, of course there could be other facts or situations not in evidence that would lead to a contradictory decision."

Of course, it is a lot easier to just not answer questions, and try to hide behind liability.   

Oct 21, 2007 06:57 AM #33
Rainer
105,415
Mike Norvell Sr
Morris Williams Realty - Leesburg, FL
Norvell Consulting Group
Hi Eric, nice post, great content,, I know that HUD sends people around to open houses and floor time agents, I did not think about the internet sites....Food for thought>>Mike Norvell Sr
Oct 22, 2007 04:22 AM #34
Rainmaker
573,526
Eric Kodner
Madeline Island Realty - La Pointe, WI
CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -

Lane -- thank you for your comments

MIke -- Thanks!  I think HUD (like NAR) is beginning to wake up to what's going on within the Web.  it's a reminder that we need to be thinking of best practices and the law whenever we put ourselves before the public.

Oct 22, 2007 04:55 AM #35
Rainmaker
209,010
M. Suzi Woods (Gravenstuk)
NOW Sharing the life and spice of the GC one day at a time - Grand Canyon, AZ
Suzi Woods, Prior Independent REBroker in MS

Eric, outstanding blog. Do you think the number of complaints are rising because reporting is rising, because people in general are more able to recognize and define a "fair housing violation"?

I don't think it too far off in the future that the Real Estate Agent who does not return phone calls may be found in a Fair Housing violation. Several of my past sales have been in picking up where other agents simply did not return calls. I am sure it was only coincidence that the clients I picked up were in protected classes.

Nov 02, 2007 04:30 PM #36
Rainmaker
428,555
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes - Minnetonka, MN
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island

Suzi, thank you!

I'd like to believe that the number of complaints can be attributed to better reporting.  But I have read that the FBI reports a surge in the number of "hate crimes" across the United States during the past couple of years.  So it's possible that Fair Housing violations are on the rise for other reasons.

 

Nov 02, 2007 04:35 PM #37
Rainmaker
316,251
James Downing - Metro DC Houses Team REALTORS®, CRS, GRI, ABR,MRP, MilRes
Real Living | At Home - Washington, DC
When Looking to Buy or Sell - Make the Right Move

I find it interesting what was said about "non-licensed" people could be guilty.  I have run across more than one mortgage person or other (on A/R and other places) - who have said "Well since I am not a Realtor; let me tell you about crime in that neighborhood", etc....

It is slippery slope indeed...

Nov 03, 2007 02:37 PM #38
Rainmaker
573,526
Eric Kodner
Madeline Island Realty - La Pointe, WI
CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -

James, if someone claims they are somehow "exempt" from Fair Housing laws or HUD scrutiny, they are mistaken and ignorant about their duties.  HUD polices everybody, not merely licensees.  That means they have the power to prosecute landlords, homeowners, tenants, mortgage industry people, home stagers, architects and so forth. 

If someone tells you they believe themselves to be exempt from Fair Housing law, have them contact their local HUD office.

Nov 03, 2007 02:50 PM #39
Ambassador
628,692
Jeanean Gendron
The Address Realty - Redding, CA
Specializing in Selling Unique Properties
James, great post. Click around and reading on the Saturday floor shift. Thanks for your work on this and bringing it to the forum. I seldom see violations, but I am vigilant. It is so important for us to remember the visibility of the forum and the internet. Thanks again for this post.
Nov 24, 2007 06:21 AM #40
Rainmaker
573,526
Eric Kodner
Madeline Island Realty - La Pointe, WI
CRS, Madeline Island Realty, LaPointe, WI 54850 -
Jenean -- Thanks for visiting and commenting!
Nov 24, 2007 07:16 AM #41
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