Many real estate brokerages have something called a morgue. It's made up of old MLS listing sheets from the 60s and 70s that are typewritten on 5 1/2 x 8 sheets and contain all the basic information about houses for sale. Sometimes they make for interesting reading.
I recently took a Continuing Education class that reviewed the Fair Housing laws and how they apply to real estate. These classes are ones that we real estate agents must take and retake because they are so important. Since "Fair Housing" applies to housing it's our business to understand and interpret the law. We are the gatekeepers of the Fair Housing Act and denying buyers access to properties based on discrimination can lead to severe penalties and loss of license.
A bit of history. The Fair Housing Act was passed in April 1968 (50th anniverserary this year!) to provide equal housing opportunities for all Americans. The law "outlaws the refusal to buy or rent a dwelling, requiring special terms or conditions for sales and rentals indicating a preference of discrimination based on certain characteristics." The law also prohibits intimidating, threatening, or coercing people's housing rights based on discrimination.
Today, the Fair Housing Act has 7 protected classes:
- Color, or pigment of skin
- National origin
- Disability- mental or physical
- Familial status (with an exception for senior housing)
In addition, real estate agents must be knowledgeable in their own state's fair housing laws since many have additional protected classes. Here in Illinois, the additional protections are:
- Age - those over 40
- Marital Status
- Order of protection status
- Sexual orientation
- Unfavorable discharge from the military
Back to those old MLS sheets - I took a few hours and browsed through several dozen of them from the villages of Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Glencoe, and Northfield. It's clear that even though the Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968, it took a while for the real estate industry to fully understand how it impacted their day-to-day activities. Here are some snippets that would surely be a swift violation today:
These snippets seem harmless enough - and they are certainly not the worst examples of fair housing violations - but they are nevertheless characteristics that don't fit everyone. "Sacred Heart Parish" might be a block away but not everyone is Catholic. A home for a smaller family might in fact be perfect for a larger family. A home that boasts that it's perfect for "young marrieds" misses all older singles. This type of violation is called steering, or directing clients toward certain neighborhoods or homes.
Making any sort of suggestion about WHO should live in a dwelling as opposed to describing the dwelling itself is what we do now. Everybody has the right to live where they want (depending on affordability, of course) and real estate agents are wise to avoid the types of phrases that were common just a generation ago.
While you're here, please see ALL NORTH SHORE HOMES FOR SALE (with current lingo!)
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Margaret Goss is a full-time real estate broker since 1998 working in the North Shore communities of Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, Glencoe, Northfield, Glenview, and Evanston.
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