The National Association of Realtors® has changed the Realtor® Code of Ethics to prohibit Realtors® from discriminating against consumers and potential employees based on their sexual orientation.
Article 10 of the Code previously prohibited Realtors® from discriminating based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin in providing real estate services, as well as prohibiting that discrimination in employment practices.
Article 10 used to simply mirror the “protected classes” in various Federal civil rights laws. But some states and municipalities, including over a dozen municipalities in Pennsylvania, have established protections beyond those in Federal law, including protections for sexual orientation. Simply put, NAR has now joined these jurisdictions in going beyond Federal law and declaring that Realtors® may not use business or employment practices to discriminate against individuals who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.
In a 1978 article known as “A Gift of Vision,” former Executive Vice President and General Counsel of NAR William North reminds Realtors® that “the Code defines those duties and obligations required in the public interest which are beyond the capacity or power of the law to mandate, and…supports the law by requiring a higher sensitivity to the duties and obligations which it imposes.” By going beyond the existing Federal restrictions, NAR is continuing to use the Code of Ethics to help Realtors® offer “a farsighted vision of the profession as it could be and should be” rather than a “myopic application of the Code” that simply mirrors existing legal prohibitions.
To address other types of discriminatory behavior, the NAR board of directors also updated Interpretation No. 39 of the NAR Bylaws to prohibit local associations from scheduling events at “facilities that are not accessible to individuals with disabilities, when any individual with a disability indicates that he or she will be in attendance.”
The change updates the policy statement, first adopted in 1985 prior to passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), to remind Realtor® associations that they have a responsibility to accommodate disabled persons in their daily operations.
Remember that Realtor® associations are generally required to comply with the ADA in their day-to-day activities regardless of what this policy says. NAR Staff Attorney Lesley Walker wrote in the Fall 2010 issue of REALTOR® AE Magazine that “as a place of public accommodation under the ADA, your association must achieve ADA compliance, and remain compliant. Compliance with Title III of the ADA is not only a legal obligation, but also smart business.”
Although considerable efforts went into fine-tuning the new language, don’t get caught up in trying to figure out when you should and shouldn’t schedule events at locations that are accessible. The best practice for Realtor® associations is to always schedule association events – including things such as educational classes, new member orientation, meetings and social events – in accessible locations. After all, what business sense does it make to schedule events somewhere that members and prospective members can’t attend?