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Agent Duties - What a Real Estate Agent Can or Cannot Do for You

It's Against the Law to Violate the Fair Housing Act

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The Fair Housing Act protects 7 classes.

© Big Stock Photo
To understand a real estate agent's scope of duties and what an agent and can and cannot do for you, look first to federal and state regulations. Here are a few of the entities that govern or affect a real estate agent's actions:
Probably the most important is the Fair Housing Act. Basically, it was designed to prevent discrimination. Fair Housing Act legislation was contained in the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and modified by the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988. There are seven classes protected by the Fair Housing Act. They are:
  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin
  • Sex
  • Handicap
  • Familial Status

Expectations for Neighborhoods Populated by Protected Classes
It comes as a shock to many people when they learn that a real estate agent absolutely cannot address some requests because it is against the law. For example, if a newly married Jewish couple asks a real estate agent to find them a home close to a synagogue in an "adults only" community, the agent can't accommodate that request. Nor can the agent take into consideration the request to be located near any specific church. The agent can't so much as advertise that her listing is around the corner from a parish.

An agent cannot answer questions about the ethnic make-up of a neighborhood. For example, buyers should not expect an agent to show homes in neighborhoods comprised of primarily Latinos, African-Americans, American Indians or any other ethnicity or race. If a buyer was adamant and said, "Tony said I need to buy in an Italian neighborhood or else," the agent must refuse, regardless.

Discrimination in Listing Advertising
In advertising, agents must refrain from using words deemed to represent any protected classes. For example, none of these words is appropriate and many of them could violate Fair Housing laws. Do not ask your agent to use these words:

  • Sports-minded
  • Bachelor apartment
  • Professional
  • Mother-in-Law quarters
  • Couples
  • Singles Only
  • Mature
  • Married
  • Seniors
  • Gentleman's Farm
  • Golden Agers
  • Section 8
  • Integrated
  • Handicapped
  • Children Welcome

Demands for School Districts & Safe Neighborhoods
Because of lawsuits, there are many other types of requests that smart real estate agents will not address. For example, where I work in California, there is no guarantee that homeowners who live within certain school districts will be able to enroll their children in that school. If a client asks me to find them a home in a particular school district, I will ask them to give me the boundaries for the search. I don't supply the boundaries. I also explain that their children might not get accepted into the school of their choice. Guaranteeing a certain school district is not within the scope of my fiduciary duties to a client and could also be construed as a violation of Fair Housing.

Ditto on discussing crime in neighborhoods. If a buyer wants to know the crime statistics of an area, smart agents will direct buyers to the police department or other sources of information. An agent should never ever disclose crime stats or say a neighborhood is a relatively safe place to live even if she believes it to be true.

At the time of writing, Elizabeth Weintraub, DRE # 00697006, is a Broker-Associate at Lyon Real Estate in Sacramento, California.

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