Window to the Law: Working with Non-English Speaking Clients

Window to the Law: Working with Non-English Speaking Clients

Sep 8, 2023
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Multilingual and non-English speaking consumers represent a large and growing segment of the real estate market. Knowing how to serve these consumers is not only a good business strategy, it helps real estate professionals stay compliant with fair housing laws.

Window to the Law: Working with Non-English Speaking Clients - Transcript

Knowing how to serve multilingual and non-English speaking customers is not only a good business strategy, it can help you comply with and promote fair housing laws. This Window to the Law video will provide best practices to serve non-English speaking customers while avoiding the risk of inaccurate translations.

Limited English proficiency or “LEP” refers to a person’s limited ability to read, write, speak, or understand English. While individuals with LEP are not a protected class, HUD issued guidance in 2016 that using LEP as a pretext for unequal treatment violates the Fair Housing Act because it has an unjustified discriminatory effect based on race or national origin.  

At the same time, real estate professionals must avoid providing inaccurate translations and misrepresenting the terms of an agreement to an LEP client.  In one instance, a real estate broker was suspended  and the brokerage’s license was revoked, due in large part to the broker’s actions as the interpreter in a transaction, where he misrepresented the terms of an English language agreement to French-speaking buyers. 

Follow these best practices to ensure you can effectively and lawfully serve LEP clients.

  1. Make informed decisions about providing services to non-English speakers. Determine whether and how you will serve LEP clients, including whether you will market your services in another language. Even if you are fluent in the other language, consider using a third party to translate documents for the client.
  2. Use an interpreter/translator agreement that establishes who will serve as the client’s interpreter, their relationship to the client, and whether the interpreter will assist the client throughout the transaction, or only for certain documents and events, such as home inspections or the closing. The agreement should also disclaim any broker liability for incorrect translations. 
  3. Know what resources already exist to serve LEP clients. Where possible, use glossaries, forms and disclosures that have been translated by a reliable source, such as a federal or state agency, a REALTOR® association, or an attorney. For example, the EPA makes the Lead-Based Paint Disclosure available in 11 languages, and Fannie Mae provides translations of essential loan forms in 5 languages. In addition, many state and local REALTOR® associations offer translated copies of forms and contracts. 
  4. If a contract is translated, ensure that the LEP client understands that the translation is only provided to facilitate their understanding, and that the transaction will be governed by the English documents. 
  5. Be cautious when using automated translation tools as they may not properly translate legal terms, dialects, or context. At least one court has noted that a translation by Google Translate is not sufficiently reliable to make it admissible evidence.

Providing LEP clients with accurate translations and the services of an interpreter are good business strategies that also help reduce risk, promote equal opportunity and advance fair housing goals.  Be sure to check out NAR en Español for Spanish-language resources for both sellers and buyers. 

Thanks for watching this episode of Window to the Law.

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