August 4, 2020
One of our most important real estate school class topics is Fair Housing. We also teach real estate agent seminars for continuing education credits because there is a compelling need for all professional REALTORS® to stay up-to-date and fully familiar with state and federal fair housing laws. Failure to do so could not only cause unfair treatment to people who have a legitimate right to housing but could cost the real estate agent many thousands of dollars—and even their license.
The granddaddy of fair housing laws.
In 1866, just one year after the Civil War ended, and over the veto of President Andrew Johnson, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act. The new law forbade discrimination based on race and color in all circumstances—with no exceptions. There was one problem: Congress did not put any mechanism, into the law to enforce it. So, while the law was on the books for the next 102 years, there were no consequences for anyone who violated it.
And as history has proven, violate it they did.
The Federal Fair Housing Act.
In the mid-1960s, America was a troubled nation. TV news began every day with pictures of the losses in Vietnam, and how communities across the nation were mourning thousands of body bags carrying back their fallen heroes. Dozens of cities witnessed riots, looting and fires, and then within 60 days in the summer of 1968, Dr. King and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy were both assassinated.
Congress then passed the landmark 1968 Federal Fair Housing Act, which President Lyndon B. Johnson immediately signed into law. The new Act reaffirmed that it is illegal to discriminate based on race and color, and it added two new protected classes: religion and national origin. This time, Congress put teeth into the law, and empowered the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to enforce it. Over the next few years, as attitudes changed, new protected classes were added to the Act: sex, disability, and familial status—which means it is illegal to deny housing just because the prospective tenant or home buyer is pregnant or has children under the age of 18.
Persons who feel they have been victims of housing discrimination can file their claim either directly with HUD, or with the closest US Attorney’s office. Penalties can be very expensive: $21,039 for the first offense and more than $105,000 for repeat offenders. In addition, the violator may be held liable for the plaintiff’s legal fees and court costs—plus civil penalties, which have no upper limit.
There are a few exemptions from the act, such as for housing operated by religious organizations for the benefit of their congregants. They are permitted to restrict housing to members of their own religious affiliation. Housing in private clubs can be restricted to members only. And senior citizen communities have the right to refuse permanent housing for children under age 18.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
In addition to the federal laws, New Jersey has its own “LAD,” or Law Against Discrimination, which is one of the most inclusive of any state. It is illegal for providers of housing in New Jersey to prevent people from buying or leasing a home on the basis on the following protected classes:
Gender identity or expression,
Marital or civil union status,
Affectional or sexual orientation,
Familial status, (including those with children under 18 or women who are pregnant or breastfeeding},
Physical or mental disability,
Domestic partner status,
Source of lawful income used for mortgage or rental payments, or
Liability for service in the Armed Forces of the United States.
It is also illegal for a landlord in New Jersey to refuse to rent a one-bedroom apartment to two persons of the same sex.
“How can people be so stupid/mean/unprofessional?”
Sadly, you can’t legislate away hate. More than a half-century after the Federal Fair Housing Act was passed, we still see almost daily examples of people who egregiously violate it. Recent cases showed a woman who called about an apartment which she was told was vacant. But when she showed up at the rental office a little while later wearing a hijab, she was told it was no longer available. Her friend went in a couple of hours later wearing western attire and was offered the same apartment.
A New York landlord—incredibly—put a clause in his leases saying that nobody who was pregnant could rent one of the apartments, and that if a tenant DID become pregnant during their lease term, the lease would end immediately.
Sadly, our own real estate profession is not immune to either ignorance or blatant discrimination. Two agents in Mississippi were fined heavily in 2019 after ignoring calls from African-Americans wanting a chance to buy one of the new townhouses whose developer they represented, yet every white buyer was taken to the site immediately and offered contracts on the homes.
In perhaps one of the most shocking examples of housing discrimination by REALTORS®, the Long Island newspaper Newsday published an article last November called “Long Island Divided.” https://projects.newsday.com/long-island/real-estate-investigation-videos/
Its investigative reporters called literally dozens of different real estate agents asking about housing. A great many of those who appeared to be black or Hispanic customers were taken only to see homes in neighborhoods with significant minority populations—and they showed them on average only half as many homes as the agents showed white “customers.”
Imagine it was you who steered those minority customers past perfectly suitable developments and were quoted by name saying some of the outrageous things the Newsday reporters were told. Imagine if it was you, or your sister or son who was not even given an opportunity to live in the community of their choice—because of the color of their skin, their religious faith or their sexual orientation. There is a reason we at Garden State Real Estate Academy spend so much time ensuring that our classroom guests really understand fair housing. It is one of a person’s most basic human rights: to live where they want to live and where they can afford to live, not where some ignoramus thinks he should let them live.
Garden State Real Estate Academy is New Jersey’s top-rated real estate licensing school. pre-licensing and broker licensing classes must usually be taken in live classroom settings, we have temporary permission to offer these classes via Zoom. We have both daytime and evening classes that start every two weeks. For more information, go to http://www.GSREacademy.com
David C. Forward is a licensed real estate broker and instructor and was first licensed as a Realtor® 32 years ago. During his career, David and his business partner sold more than 450 homes in South Jersey. He is now School Director of Garden Real Estate Academy, has won numerous awards for real estate sales, is a much-requested public speaker who has addressed audiences on six continents and is the author of 15 books. David can be reached at David@GSREacademy.com