Are The Fair Housing Laws Unconstitutional? Probably.

By
Real Estate Agent with Evers & Company Real Estate, Inc. AB95346

Are The Fair Housing Laws Unconstitutional?  Probably.

Yesterday, Karen Fiddler wrote a featured post, I Can't Tell You That....The Fair Housing Act Lost Me A Client, But I Keep My License.  Karen talks about a situation that many of us find ourselves in all too often, and she did the right thing as far as following the letter of the law. 

But was it the right thing for the clients?

Let me start off by saying that I have no problem whatsoever with what I think the purpose of these laws are: to keep home buyers from being kept out of a neighborhood they want to live in because of their looks, religion, or issues that are among the various "protected classes" in state and federal laws.  Many of them were passed during a period when blockbusting, steering, and even restrictive covenants were working to keep various ethnic and religious groups out of some neighborhoods where they wanted to live - bad and wrong, we can all agree.

But fast forward to today and they way we are being trained to interpret our responsibilities under these laws.

What about people who want to live in the gayborhood?  Or not?  Or if they want to be sure they are buying a home in an area where their neighbors won't resent their living there?  What if they are looking for a place among other young families with young children theirs can play with?  What if they want to live in a community with other people who speak their native languages?

They cannot have that conversation with the one person they are trusting to help them find their perfect place?   When my mother was looking for a new place, I couldn't this conversation with her!

One of my clients is a prominent attorney who has taught at some of the nation's top law schools.  When he and his wife were looking for a place in downtown DC, he was incredulous.  These laws, he believes, are a huge infringement upon the right of free speech.  And he is probably right.

I am certainly not advocating that we begin to freely exercise this possible right of free speech and jeopardize our real estate licenses in the process.  But I do think it's time for state and local legislators to take another look at these laws to try to figure out a better way to accomplish the intent - eliminating housing discrimination - while removing some of the unintended consequences that make it harder for us to provide a high level of service to our clients, no matter who they are or where they want to live.

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  1. Anne Clark 11/05/2010 11:09 PM
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constitutionality of fair housing laws
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Rainmaker
471,626
Susan Haughton, REALTOR Alexandria VA Homes for Sale

I have thoroughly reading the comments, which were quite varied and very interesting.  Clients do not understand why we cannot help them figure out where they are going to be most comfortable;  I have always thought the intent of the legislation should be to criminalize discrimination, however, as is usually true with most legislation designed to change behavior, it has gone overboard and prohibited us from providing useful information even when there is no real or imagined discrimation intended!

November 07, 2010 12:30 AM
Rainmaker
539,731
Scott Fogleman
Witt-Fogleman, Inc. - Bedford, Lynchburg, and Roan
Witt-Fogleman Team 434-941-8847

This is a tough topic, we want to help each client but not get into any issues. I have refuesd to answer several questions due to "fair housing laws". While I have a good grasp of the laws, I play extra safe bcause I do not want the potiential issues.

November 07, 2010 06:15 AM
Rainmaker
606,400
Pamela Seley, REALTOR®
Menifee Lakes California Real Estate
REALTY EXECUTIVES OTF

Great post and discussion.  I am in agreement with Broker Bryant.  If a client asked me to find them a house within walking distance of a synagogue, I would.  I've had clients ask me to find them a house within walking distance of a certain elementary school.  Is that steering?  I don't think so.  Those are the client's wants and/or needs. 

Also, I agree with @Lenn  #20  It's steering if it's the agent's preference for the buyer. 

November 07, 2010 06:21 PM
Rainer
86,440
Ron Parise
LocateHomes.com

Pat

Im going to go out on a limb here and suggest you are looking at the fair housing laws a little too carefully and seeing things that arent there. its discrimination thats against the law,  not steering. steering is but one example of things that are discriminatory.  But what is steering??

 

Heres my definition: Steering is an action by a real estate agent or broker to either advise a client to purchase in a particular area on the basis of their membership in a particular class, or failing to expose the client to a neighborhood that meets their criteria because of their membership in a protected class

Whats important to me here is  an action by a broker or agent....A client is not guilty of a crime, and neither are we if they steer themselves

If a client asks for a neighborhood with specific demographics it is not discrimination (and not a crime) for us to actively help them find it

November 08, 2010 09:12 AM
Rainmaker
329,108
Eric Kodner
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Twin Cities, Madeline Island
Wayzata Lakes Realty: Eric Kodner Sells Twin Cities Homes

Fair Housing laws have survived a great many constitutional challenges.  No doubt there will be more.  In the meantime, the political climate suggests they make great material for some to complain about.

November 14, 2010 12:42 AM
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Patricia Kennedy

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Pat Kennedy -- author of The Irreverent Guide to Real Estate -- gives you a look at life on the streets as a real estate broker in our nation's capital. And her blog is peppered with great advice combined with humor!