Legal Blog - Risk Reduction


Shining a Light on the Details of Fair Housing Law

Sep 20, 2016

Risk Reductions

Question: Can an owner of a condo advertise a rental listing for a roommate and request “women only?”

Answer: Under normal circumstances, it is a violation of fair housing laws to express a preference toward a tenant of a specific gender. However, there is an exception under the law in which the advertisement is for a roommate to live in the same property as the landlord. According to the Virginia Fair Housing Office Web site, “This limited exception applies only to sex and only where the owner lives in the house and wants to rent rooms to same sex roommates.”

Question: Someone told me that it is a violation of fair housing law to talk about schools. Is that true?

Answer: According to a recent report by the National Fair Housing Alliance, comments about schools have been used as a proxy to steer clients to specific neighborhoods. The report indicated that those who seek to steer clients often attempt to conceal their illegal activity by avoiding direct comments about the racial or ethnic makeup of the neighborhood.

Instead, they simply describe schools with large populations of minorities as “bad” while identifying schools with small numbers of minority students as “good.” In these situations, the comments are made without regard to the actual quality of the school or objective criteria for measuring school performance. Comments about the quality of a school based on racial or ethnic makeup rather than on the actual quality of the school are a form of discrimination.

This has caused concern for reputable, professional agents about what they can say about schools. Some have even gone so far as to decline commenting about schools for “fair housing reasons.”

REALTORS® can give clients objective information about schools without violating fair housing laws. It is perfectly acceptable to identify the name of the schools that serve a specific neighborhood, such as Fairfax High School or Graham Road Elementary. The name of the school is an objective fact. 
But REALTORS® should exercise care when discussing the quality of schools. We recommend that REALTORS® cite information from objective sources such as reports from government agencies, newspaper articles or other third parties that discuss objective criteria.
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