No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but we all feel somewhat relieved when we get to shrug and just be the messenger.
However, in your role as the licensee in a transaction, you have few opportunities to skate away after delivering information, especially if the information you convey would be a legal or ethical violation.
The Fair Housing Act has, for the past 50 years, prohibited discriminatory housing practices in activities like the sale or rental of housing, providing real estate-related services and providing brokerage services. I know what you’re thinking: “Why is she telling me this? I know what the law is and I would never treat anyone differently. Now, my clients on the other hand….” And that’s the catch.
HUD regulations provide that a person who provides housing-related services may be liable for their own misconduct, for the misconduct of an employee or agent or for the failure to correct or end discriminatory practices done by a third party. This means that not only are you, the licensee, responsible for your own actions (and if you’re a broker, the actions of your salespersons and team members), but you are also responsible for the unlawful conduct of a client even if you believe you are just acting as the messenger. Failing to present an offer, having different contract terms, charging higher rent and making statements of a discriminatory nature are all violations that can lead you to trouble.
Also keep in mind your most basic obligation to act in your client’s best interest. A blatant admission that your client has used a discriminatory practice to make a housing decision is certainly not doing anything in their favor. Realtors® also have an ethical obligation to the public to “not be [a party] to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity.” Going along with a client’s demand to refuse to sell or rent a property to someone of a certain race or sexual origin does not excuse your behavior.
Your client’s desire to discriminate against a potential tenant or purchaser based on protected characteristics is not separate from your own as his or her agent. If you convey a discriminatory message, regardless of your personal beliefs, you have admitted your client’s discriminatory intent, you made a prohibited statement and you are welcoming liability for yourself, your broker and your client.