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Clients and discrimination

By: Goldsmith, James on in

While you are committed to uphold the principals of fair housing, you may find the occasional client or customer who hasn’t accepted your pledge.

They may ask you to turn your gaze as they engage in unlawful and furtive discrimination; they may ask you to promote their discriminatory practice; they may suggest that your duty to them outweighs your obligation to uphold the law and your Realtor® commit to promote it.

What to do when a client directly seeks your support of a discriminatory practice or does so in a way that is understood without being directly stated? Your complicitness in discriminatory housing act may go unnoticed. You will earn a commission that will spend like any other dollar earned, but….

Assuming, however, that you want to do the right thing, there are a few choices. Not everyone wants to be preachy (the irony is not lost on me about what I am doing here), and not everyone is comfortable addressing the matter head-on. Do you mention your commitment to the Fair Housing Act and that it is illegal for your client to consider race, national origin, familial status, etc. in their decision making? Maybe it’s best just to terminate the relationship and say nothing.

The answer lies within. It’s not preachy to tell your client that discrimination in housing is unlawful and subjects them to substantial adverse consequences. Remind him that your own participation in such a practice is unlawful and, therefore, you will not promote that practice.

What to do if you know your client is not heeding your advice to eliminate illegal discriminatory practices? Isn’t the only reasonable choice to sever the relationship? A simple, honest statement is all that need accompany your termination of the relationship. So what if there are days, weeks or months left in your employment contract with the consumer? What are your buyer’s or seller’s damages if you terminate the relationship early? Is it hard to find another licensee willing to promote the legitimate and nondiscriminatory interests? I have never seen a suit filed against a broker and salesperson who terminated the relationship prematurely for any reasonable decision.

The federal government, in passing the Fair Housing Act, declared a national policy prohibiting discrimination in the sale, lease or rental of housing because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin, anywhere in the United States. NAR unequivocally supports the act and its aims, as does PAR and your local association. Realtors® proudly display NAR’s equal housing opportunity logo and are encouraged to do so.

I am pleased to serve Realtor® associations who strongly uphold the principals of fair housing. I am not familiar with any other group, and certainly none that boasts the membership of NAR, that makes such effort to teach and promote the principals of fair housing. Recent national attention to race, however, has increased focus on race relations, bigotry and all that surrounds it.

For most of us, fair housing is not an issue. We’ve proudly supported its laudable goals and we proudly display a logo demonstrating our commitment. We should be proud that the professionals who call themselves Realtors® are at the forefront of this issue.

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Comments (3)


  • Ruth Killian   August 22, 2019 at 7:13 am

    Attorney Goldsmith:

    Well written and explained in layman’s terms.

    Thank you for all that you do.

    Reply to Ruth Killian
  • Kevin McPheeters   August 22, 2019 at 8:31 am

    Of course there is still work to do as it is still allowed in PA to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in many areas. Some towns have adopted a policy against such discrimination as well as being included in the Code of Ethics as a protected class however it is not state law.

    Reply to Kevin McPheeters
  • Jacki Hunt   August 22, 2019 at 12:38 pm

    In keeping with abiding by the law, I will not forward a “love letter” written by a hopeful buyer to the seller to entice them to choose their contract over someone else’s. I explain to my seller that this is a business transaction, and as unintentional as discrimination might be, I do not want to be a part of anything that could be construed as discrimination in any possible way.

    Reply to Jacki Hunt

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