Window to the Law: Advertising Within the Fair Housing Framework

Window to the Law: Advertising Within the Fair Housing Framework

Apr 1, 2022
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Advertisements are a powerful tool to reach consumers and generate leads. The language and images used in ads must comply with fair housing laws as well as Article 10 of the NAR Code of Ethics. In this video, learn more about successfully advertising your services and available properties while avoiding fair housing violations.

Window to the Law: Advertising Within the Fair Housing Framework - Transcript

2022 marks fifty-four years since Congress passed the Fair Housing Act.  As real estate professionals, you’re legally obligated to uphold the fair housing laws, but are also uniquely positioned to further fair housing initiatives through your commitment to working with clients of all backgrounds.  This Window to the Law focuses on how to successfully advertise your services and available properties while avoiding fair housing violations.

While advertisements are a powerful tool to reach consumers and generate leads, the language and images must comply with fair housing laws and a REALTOR®’s obligations under Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.

Advertisements should never indicate a preference or limitation based on a protected class, which at the federal level includes race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status and national origin.  HUD recently expanded its interpretation of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identify, and state and local laws may expand the categories of protected classes further.

When advertising an available property, a good rule of thumb is to describe the property not the ideal buyer or tenant.  Phrases like “Perfect for students,” “Ideal for empty nesters,” or “Quiet Jewish neighborhood” likely raise fair housing issues as these imply a preference of one demographic over another.  In contrast, phrases like “easy walk to train,” or “beautiful Mexican doors” are likely acceptable because these reasonably and accurately describe the property’s characteristics.

Unfortunately, there is no authoritative list of acceptable or unacceptable words or phrases. Instead, real estate ads are judged using a reasonable person standard.  This reasonable, or ordinary person standard is neither the most sensitive or most insensitive when analyzing whether an ad is discriminatory.  Keep in mind this standard evolves over time, meaning once-acceptable words and images, like the confederate flag, might later present fair housing concerns. 

It’s a competitive market, and real estate professionals often try to set themselves apart.  Doing so by promoting fluency in a particular language or a specialization in a particular area in the community unlikely pose fair housing concerns. However, avoid indicating a preference or limitation for the clients you serve. 

For example, indicating a specialty in Polish-speaking homebuyers may be problematic as targeting certain group over another, whereas stating that your office is fluent in Spanish or provides translation services is appropriate because these describe an inclusive feature of your office. 

Just as with advertising properties, you can describe your services—but not who you want to serve.

Finally, consider including a fair housing opportunity message or fair housing logo in your advertisement to demonstrate your commitment to providing equal professional service to all.

For more information, tips and resources, check out NAR’s Fair Housing resources. Thanks for watching this episode of Window to the Law.

Additional Resources

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