Fair-Housing Ad Violations Aren’t Always Obvious

Describe the property, not the potential buyer or tenant. “Ideal for empty nesters” or “perfect for students” raises red flags; “easy walk to train” does not.

CHICAGO – Real estate professionals are legally obligated to uphold fair housing laws, and the language and images you use in advertising needs to be vetted carefully. Beyond the law, Realtors® also have an obligation to do so under Article 10 of the Realtor 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,” says Mike Rohde, staff attorney at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), in the latest “Window to the Law” video, Advertising Within the Fair Housing Framework.

“HUD recently expanded its interpretation of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and state and local laws may expand the categories of protected classes further,” he adds.

Rohde provides a tip: When advertising a property, focus on describing the property – not the buyer or tenant. He cautions against using phrases like “ideal for empty nesters” or “perfect for students” that could raise red flags by implying a preference for one demographic over another.

On the other hand, he says phrases like “easy walk to train” or “beautiful Mexican doors” are likely acceptable since they describe the property’s characteristics.

Rohde says a similar rule of thumb applies when Realtors describe how they can help buyers or sellers – describe their services and not whom they want to serve. For example, it’s okay for agents to promote their fluency in a particular language or specialization, and the area of the community they serve. But they should avoid indicating a preference for or limitation to the clients they’ll serve, he says.

Real estate ads are judged using a reasonable person standard, which can evolve over time. Once-overlooked words and images, such as the Confederate flag, could create fair housing concerns nowadays.

April is Fair Housing Month, but NAR offers a suite of fair-housing resources and tools year-round on its website.

Source: “Window to the Law: Advertising Within the Fair Housing Framework,” National Association of Realtors® (April 1, 2022)

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