"Walking distance to..." is this a Fair Housing Act Violation? Words to avoid when advertising house for rent/for sale.

By
Real Estate Agent with Alain Pinel BRE 01367196
https://activerain.com/droplet/svt

When advertising your listing ---- what words should you stay away from?

In a recent post on Active Rain, I noticed that the agent advertised the listing as “Walking distance to...”

It reminded me of certain rules in our MLS about certain words we should avoid.

Even Craigslist is very specific about their terms of use, their rules -- follow them or get flagged and have your post deleted, to wit:

CONDUCT  You agree not to post, email, or otherwise make available Content:house for sale

d) that violates the Fair Housing Act by stating, in any notice or ad for
the sale or rental of any dwelling, a discriminatory preference based on
race, color, national origin, religion, sex,
familial status or handicap
(or violates any state or local law prohibiting discrimination on the
basis of these or other characteristics);


Our local MLS is very strict about observing these rules. It helps to have transaction coordinators and assistants to keep us straight. As such, we as agents have to be very creative when describing properties and their marketable features in our advertising materials --- on the MLS, in print, online, etc.

Searching for examples, I found:

  • Equal Housing Opportunity Fair Housing Advertising Guidelines HERE
    • SEE Housing /Rental Ads - Watch List(W) "walk to...or walking distance to.."(Close To, or (X) Blocks From)
  • And Miami Valley (Ohio) Fair Housing Center provided an advertising guideline -- Click HERE
  • Southern California MLS provides this guideline published in 2001
  • According to this 1998 article aboutThe Growing Farce of Fair Housing  "Real-estate companies in the Maryland suburbs of Washington have been prohibited from including the phrase "walking distance to the subway" in home ads because it is considered discriminatory against people in wheelchairs."
  • A Manhattan blogger inUrbanDigs.com writes in 2009  "Then there becomes 'walking distance,' which we can no longer use. By saying ‘walking distance,’ I would be discriminating against those who are unable to walk. Hopefully I can still use ‘close proximity’ to public transportation."


So we err on the side of caution.

  • Instead of saying “walking distance” say “near” or “close to” or even state measurable distance like “a hundred yards” or “quarter of a mile”
  • We don’t say “family” but refer to them as “households”.  For example, we can lavish praise on a home, but never refer to it as a home for a “family”
  • Even “in-law” units are described as “au pair” quarters ("mother-in-law suite" is allowed...but we err on the side of caution. See  Agent Duties: What a REALTOR can or cannot do for you)
  • We don’t mention children or parents …. but we work around that by mentioning  “playgrounds” or play areas
  • We don’t mention that a property is in a specific school district (we mention the city, but not the school). Although we can mention a home is NEAR a certain school, we don’t say it’s IN that specific school boundary. To play safe, simply enter “Call School District”

 

UPDATE FROM OUR RISK MANAGEMENT ATTORNEY
As indicated, that phrase ("walking distance") does not violate HUD Fair Housing guidelines and HUD has indicated that they will not pursue any such use.

However, there could be a private individual who feels offended by this, and there are advocate attorneys who pursue all sorts of perceived fair housing violations.


So, while it is likely safe to use that term, as a risk management suggestion I would  stay  away from that phrase, and instead state something like "nearby" "4 blocks away" "convenient access to.."



There must be other examples of what to avoid and how to get around them. If so, please share :)


When advertising your listing ---- what words should you stay away from?

 

 

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Rainmaker
316,251
Sandy Acevedo
951-290-8588 - Chino Hills, CA
RE/MAX Masters, Inland Empire Homes for Sale

Hi Pacita, great discussion here. In many beach communities you will see, 'steps to the beach' all the time. To err on the side of caution, we were told not to use that description for the same 'walking distance' reason.

Feb 06, 2012 05:17 PM #69
Rainmaker
762,458
Ritu Desai
Samson Properties - Ashburn, VA
Virginia Realtor-Fairfax/Loudoun/PW-703-625-4949

Pacita, reading the comments and the blog I feel like I added a CE class. Awesome topic!!!

Feb 06, 2012 10:47 PM #70
Rainmaker
221,036
Richard and Jean Murphy
Harborview Properties - Portland, ME
(207) 712-4796

Great post and good comments. Will go back and read the other half.

Feb 06, 2012 11:59 PM #71
Rainmaker
199,859
Brian Kuhns
Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber - Fort Wayne, IN
Fort Wayne Real Estate by Brian Kuhns

Home for Sale period.  While i understand the need for guidelines to protect the consumer, over time these guidelines seem to becomes more like borders. 

Feb 07, 2012 12:24 AM #72
Rainmaker
490,543
Lorraine or Loretta Kratz
Crescent Moon Realty, Inc. & Land N Sea Auctions. - San Marcos, CA
Certified Negotiation Consultants

Here in the San Diego local MLS we post the walking score which promotes the nearness to restaurants, schools, etc. So, we do use the walking score in promotion. There is a rumor that  MLS, is going state wide in California, so it will be interesting to see what the reactions will be to using words like walking distance etc?

Feb 07, 2012 01:06 AM #73
Ambassador
1,091,324
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI
(RA) AHWD CRS ePRO OAHU HAWAII REAL ESTATE

Are you telling our Board to err on the side of caution?  Note the Single Family for search criteria....Multi Family...We might as well say to single out 'foreclosure' would be wise because it's announcing that the property was foreclosed on. 

It's one thing to have different states/counties and Real Estate Laws that govern our states have their own set of rules....it's another to state that ALL should err on the side of caution. We also cannot input our listings into the MLS without  entering the specific school.  YOUR mls has a different set of rules...than ours. Does it make your board right and ours wrong?  Is it REALLY wrong to list a high school for a specific area ...  it IS wrong to list a high school and give our opinion on good/bad etc

Feb 07, 2012 04:04 AM #74
Rainmaker
710,650
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

Carla -- glad to see some levity. I know we go through a lot trying to be careful not to offend

Sandy -- like everything else, it comes down to your personal choice, and whatever your MLS board allows you to do

Ritu -- great discussion here....and you're right, it's like attenting a class

Richard and Jean --- I'm adding and update shortly from our attorney on Risk Management

Brian --- fortunately, we have attorneys advising us how to stay out of trouble

Lorraine and Loretta --- I can only imagine the intense discussion among the various boards.

 

Feb 07, 2012 06:44 AM #75
Rainmaker
710,650
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

Celeste -- search criteria is not the same thing as advertising to the general public.

On our MLS we have the option to enter the name of the school if we know the boundary --- but we also have the option to enter “Call School District” in the elementary, middle school and high school entry fields. We identify the CITY school district, but many of us choose not to specify the schools themselves.

And no, I personally am not telling you or your board what to do. I said it's what I or we do here.  I choose to err on the side of caution.

Certainly, you and your board can do whatever you want within your own guidelines, independent of other states or MLS rules.

Feb 07, 2012 06:59 AM #76
Rainer
125,365
Kim Skumanick
Keller Williams Real Estate - Tunkhannock, PA

I'm with Rita (#71)! Pacita, when will you be sending my CE transcript? Thoughtful post with additional excellent insight from so many. Have always smiled when realtor.com refuses to accept the word "perfect", as in "spacious dining room, perfect for entertaining" but allows the word "ideal" instead.

The update from your risk management attorney raises a good point, that even though words are deemed acceptable by HUD and fair housing advocates, there's always someone out there who will find a way to challenge a perceived violation.

Feb 07, 2012 11:20 AM #77
Rainmaker
710,650
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

Kim ---

As a matter of fact, this topic will be discussed in our sales meeting tomorrow. Our broker thought it was important enough to talk about, using the update from our attorney who specialized in Risk Management. All we want to do is to make sure we stay out of trouble :)

Feb 07, 2012 11:24 AM #78
Ambassador
1,091,324
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI
(RA) AHWD CRS ePRO OAHU HAWAII REAL ESTATE

Believe me, I am anal when it comes to looking at EVERYTHING to do with 'doing things the right way'. 

This is why I said before that each state has its own set of laws, contracts etc. YOUR mls may not go out to the general public but ours does as soon as we post a listing.

I'm just trying to see your side...as well as state what IS as well.  I did not choose to label a 'detached' home as 'single family'.  Our mls search criteria lists 'single family home'. Our search criteria goes out to the general public so maybe I'm not understanding where you're coming from? That's why I showed you the snippet of entering data for listings for our office. (I happen to be the one who enters all the listings for our office) and when it is highlighted in blue (schools in example in my snippet) we HAVE to enter the schools or our system will not allow the listing to post.

PUBLIC SEARCH FOR CENTRAL OAHU HOMES  is the public site that anyone can search for listings.  After we enter our data it will post on the 'general public' side (link). 

Feb 08, 2012 04:00 PM #79
Rainmaker
710,650
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

Celeste

"Single family home" is pretty generic. Where we avoid using the word "family" is  in  the public remarks description.  Rather than say " this is a good home for your family" we may simply stop at saying "this a good home."

So you need to enter the specific school. Well, we don't have to and can choose to enter in the blank field to "call school district."  Glad we do.

There's no argument here. Each state and each MLS does things differently.

Aloha

Feb 08, 2012 05:02 PM #80
Ambassador
712,069
Karen Crowson
Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage - Rancho Bernardo, CA
Your Agent for Change

Wow, interesting thread Pacita. Makes me want to look back at some of my posts and see if I've been compliant. Sheesh, so much to remebpmber that doesn't always pass the logic test.

Feb 08, 2012 05:39 PM #81
Rainmaker
541,811
Karen Rice
Davis R. Chant, REALTORS - Hawley, PA
Northeast PA & Lake Wallenpaupack Home Sales

Personally as a consumer I'd be expecting to see a school in the listing info...I bet it is pretty darn frustrating for the public out there who wants to search for a home that is within a certain school district and all the listings say "Call school district' to see where the darn home falls into the plan.

I do not see in any way shape or form how in heck it is a violation or risk to put the specific school in the MLS.  This is not steering, this is giving information.

Single Family Residential is a standard term here, used in home owner associations, the tax records, the MLS, and Realtor.com...I fail to see how that is a fair housing violation.

My opinion of all this is - thank goodness I don't live in California.  LOL  I'm also glad I don't work in New York but that's for another reason (attorneys...lol).  I'm very grateful for PA.  

Feb 08, 2012 10:57 PM #82
Rainmaker
710,650
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

Karen C --- as our Risk Management attorney advises, we should simply choose our words carefully and stay away from certain wording to avoid lawsuits.

Karen R

"Single family home" is generic when it comes to identifying a type of property.

I think where we have a disconnect is how  and where we use the word "family" in the public remarks and advertising materials.

For example, I may write about a property as "Spacious with several bonus rooms for a busy household" where I substitute "household" for "family" so that it is inclusive of households consisting of unrelated housemates.

School boundaries and school redistricting happens, and may be a necessity in areas that are budget-constrained. We're seeing and have seen some schools closed and merged with others.  Although it's not a Fair Housing Act violation to enter the specific name of the school, neither is it mandated that we enter that information in our local MLS (I didn't say all MLS in the state either) so we are given the choice to direct the buyer to call the school district. That could be considered part of the buyer investigation.

Perhaps excerpts from this article may explain it better than I can:

"Demands for School Districts & Safe Neighborhoods
Because of lawsuits, there are many other types of requests that smart real estate agents will not address. For example, where I work in California, there is no guarantee that homeowners who live within certain school districts will be able to enroll their children in that school.

If a client asks me to find them a home in a particular school district, I will ask them to give me the boundaries for the search. I don't supply the boundaries. I also explain that their children might not get accepted into the school of their choice. Guaranteeing a certain school district is not within the scope of my fiduciary duties to a client and could also be construed as a violation of Fair Housing."

You may not want to live in CA, but I surely do. to each his own :)

Feb 09, 2012 03:58 AM #83
Ambassador
1,091,324
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI
(RA) AHWD CRS ePRO OAHU HAWAII REAL ESTATE

Ah...get it.  Totally agree!  As for the school...Agree with Karen as the school in the area can be listed and then we would give them a link to go check out all the schools in the area and neighborhoods.

Feb 09, 2012 06:33 PM #84
Rainmaker
541,811
Karen Rice
Davis R. Chant, REALTORS - Hawley, PA
Northeast PA & Lake Wallenpaupack Home Sales

This whole discussion just hammers home the saying "All real estate is LOCAL."  Even within my part of PA different MLS' do things quite differently...and sometimes the agents get irritated with us "outsiders" trying to play on their turf without knowing all the ground rules...lol.  That's why in most cases, I prefer to stay right within my area where I know what I know, lol.   

Feb 10, 2012 12:32 AM #85
Ambassador
1,091,324
Celeste "SALLY" Cheeseman
Liberty Homes - Mililani, HI
(RA) AHWD CRS ePRO OAHU HAWAII REAL ESTATE

@ Karen...likewise! 

Feb 12, 2012 06:31 AM #86
Rainmaker
1,502,973
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Calabasas CA

I would never consider it to be a violation......and I see this description often. Some sites even have the indicator who ''walkable'' the location of the house. 

But I guess, you can never be too careful....

Mar 03, 2018 12:00 PM #87
Rainmaker
710,650
Pacita Dimacali
Alain Pinel - Oakland, CA
Alameda/Contra Costa Counties CA

Wow, Inna....this post has legs! I posted it in 2012.  But some of the thoughtful responses are still worth pondering. Thanks!

Mar 03, 2018 12:24 PM #88
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Pacita Dimacali

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