While the Fair Housing Act’s purpose—barring discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of residential property—may be easy to understand, navigating the many intricacies of the landmark statute can be tricky even for experienced real estate professionals, said experts on the 1968 law who spoke during a recent event in Fairfax, Va.
The event served as a commemoration of the 50-year anniversary of the signing of the Fair Housing Act, and was organized by the Fairfax County of Human Rights and Equity Programs and sponsored by the Northern Virginia Association of REALTORS®, Legal Services of Northern Virginia, and the Prince William County Human Rights Commission.
The challenges stem from the fact that the law requires real estate professionals to ensure their clients not only have equal access to properties, but also that they drive the selection of the neighborhood or home they want to live in. Even a well-meaning effort to match a client with property you think they would like can have legal consequences.
For example, if you are working with a Korean family that is looking for a home to purchase, taking them to neighborhoods where you know other Asian-Americans live could run afoul of the law if the clients did not specifically ask to go to those neighborhoods. That’s according to attorneys from the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights division and Legal Services of Northern Virginia who served on the panel.
Panelists also advised caution when taking steps aimed at ensuring the safety of your clients. While it might seem reasonable to steer a family with young children away from a home they are looking to buy or rent that has lead-based paint, for instance, doing so would violate the law if the family was aware of the presence of the paint and still wanted to live there. It’s not against the law to market homes with lead-based paint to families with children and let them live there as long as they have been made aware that the hazardous paint is present.