Avoid Fair Housing Violations in Advertising

April 15, 2022

- By “Window to the Law: Advertising Within the Fair Housing Framework,” National Association of REALTORS® (April 1, 2022)

Real estate professionals are legally obligated to uphold fair housing laws, and the language and images you use in your advertising needs to be vetted carefully. REALTORS® also have an obligation to do so under Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.

“Advertisements should never indicate a preference or limitation based on a protected class, which at the federal level includes race, color, religion, sex, disability, family status, and national origin,” Mike Rohde, staff attorney at the National Association of REALTORS®, says in the latest “Window to the Law” video. “HUD recently expanded its interpretation of sex to include sexual orientation and gender identity, and state and local laws may expand the categories of protected classes further.”

Rohde provides a tip: When advertising a property, focus on describing the property, not the buyer or tenant. As such, he cautions against using phrases like “ideal for empty nesters” or “perfect for students” that could raise red flags by implying a preference of one demographic over another. On the other hand, he says phrases like “easy walk to train” or “beautiful Mexican doors” are likely to be acceptable since they describe the property’s characteristics.

Also, Rohde says, just like when you’re advertising properties, describe your services and not whom you want to serve. For example, agents may promote their fluency in a particular language or specialization in an area of the community. But avoid indicating a preference for or limitation to the clients you serve, he says.

Real estate ads are judged using a reasonable person standard, which can evolve over time, he adds. As such, once-overlooked words and images, such as the Confederate flag, could present fair housing concerns nowadays.

Watch more tips on how to avoid fair housing violations in your advertising in the latest “Window to the Law” video.

Also, access NAR’s fair housing resources.