Every April, the real estate industry comes together to celebrate the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 – for good reason.
The Fair Housing Act put an end to legal housing discrimination, protecting people from being excluded from a neighborhood or another housing opportunity simply because of their race, religion, sex or other protected characteristic.
Exactly what qualifies as a protected characteristic can vary, since state and local laws often broaden the federal protections. In Indiana, residents are entitled to rent or buy housing without regard to their race, national origin, color, religion, ancestry, familial status (including whether they have minor children), sex or disability.
Fair housing is now your right – but that doesn’t mean that housing discrimination is totally a thing of the past. Old patterns and prejudices die hard, and it takes work to build an industry that is both diverse and inclusive, so that access to our communities is fair and thriving.
Who Is Subject to Fair Housing Regulations?
Real estate industry professionals of all kinds work hard to show their commitment to housing equality for all.
Whether you’re buying or selling a home, it helps to understand the “major players” in the real estate industry checks and balances. This includes housing providers who must know and follow fair housing laws, and the organizations people can turn to when they’ve been victimized by discrimination. Here’s how the Fair Housing Act influences the industry:
- Licensing: The Indiana Real Estate Commission issues professional real estate licenses, but only after applicants go through a rigorous education process, pass a background check and a state exam. Like other professionals, real estate agents are expected to adhere to a code of ethics and set of professional standards in their work – and those leave no room for discriminatory behavior.
- Brokerages: Real estate agents licensed by the Indiana Real Estate Commission are required to have an association with a sponsoring brokerage or managing broker. Brokerages can be bigger companies or one-person shows, but they often provide a range of satellite services that help people fulfill their housing goals. Our very own F.C. Tucker Company is an example of a brokerage.
- HUD: HUD started out as a product of the U.S. Housing Act of 1937, and was initially known as the United States Housing Authority (USHA). The Department of Housing and Urban Development Act of 1965 (HUD) made HUD a cabinet-level agency, and its ongoing mission has broadened considerably over the years. HUD provides housing and rental assistance, provides ongoing guidance and research about housing discrimination, conducts investigations, and protects the rights of people who believe they’ve suffered housing discrimination all over the country.
- REALTIST®: The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (or NAREB) was established in 1947 as an advocacy group for African American real estate professionals, consumers and communities at a time when restrictive covenants and redline districts aimed to keep communities artificially segregated. Today, real estate agents and other housing professionals who are members of NAREB are called REALTISTS®, and their mission is to commit to ongoing advocacy for “Democracy in Housing.”
- REALTOR®: The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is a trade group that aims to hold its members to high professional standards at all times – and that includes when it comes to their commitment to fair housing for all. A real estate agent who is a member of NAR is called a REALTOR®, and that designation means that they are held to a standard of ethics that forbids any kind of housing discrimination prohibited under the Fair Housing Act as well as discrimination based on either sexual orientation or gender identity. Their stance is a welcome addition to the policies currently enshrined in federal law and a huge show of support for the LGBTQIA+ community.
- NFHA: The National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) is often at the forefront when it comes to the fair housing movements. Its goal is to “eliminate housing discrimination and ensure equitable housing opportunities for all people and communities through education and outreach, member services, public policy, advocacy, housing and community development, tech equity, enforcement, and consulting and compliance programs.” In addition, the NFHA often provides pivotal support for local fair housing agencies.
- IAR: The Indiana Association of REALTORS® is our state-level association that provides continuing education, legal guidance and more for agents and brokerages. IAR also keeps its metaphorical finger on the pulse of changing legislations and regulations that come down from the state Capitol.
- MIBOR: The Indianapolis metro area has its own local chapter with the National Association of REALTORS®. Founded in 1912, the MIBOR REALTOR® Association is a non-profit organization that focuses on promoting professionalism among its members and active efforts to build strong communities. Members of MIBOR focus hard on making sure that every client’s needs are put first in their real estate journey.
- Appraisers: The appraisal on a home shouldn’t be affected by discrimination, but appraisal systems have historically undervalued homes in communities of color or homes with Black owners. HUD has just recently affirmed the fact that appraisal discrimination is illegal and subject to HUD enforcement, and new procedures are being developed to undo systemic biases.
- Mortgage Lenders: The Fair Housing Act, in conjunction with the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, makes it illegal for discrimination to play a part in the mortgage process. This applies to initial loans (or denials), interest rates, points, fees, loan modification and insurance costs. For example, mortgage lenders cannot charge higher interest rates because a property is located in a largely Hispanic area, nor can they discriminate against would-be buyers because of their religion, sexual orientation or another protected characteristic.
- FHCCI: The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana is the local fair housing agency serving 24 counties around Indianapolis. Their mission is to ensure equal housing opportunities by “eliminating housing discrimination through advocacy, enforcement, education and outreach.” Sometimes referred to as a watchdog group, FHCCI assists the public in protecting their fair housing rights by monitoring market activity and helping individuals bring cases against housing industry professionals who violate fair housing laws and guidelines. They can deploy fair housing testers to help prove patterns of discrimination beyond what an individual can accomplish alone, and other resources to support fair housing housing accountability.
In other words: The protections you have against housing discrimination are very real – and there is multi-layered support available should you encounter discrimination on your journey.
What Sort of Actions Are Prohibited Under Fair Housing Laws?
By no means is this list exhaustive, but it’s generally illegal to take any kind of negative housing action against a potential buyer or renter based on their inclusion in a protected class. Examples of housing discrimination include things like:
- Real estate agents who engage in “gatekeeping” a neighborhood so that certain potential buyers are “steered away” because of their skin color, disabilities, religion or something similar
- Refusing outright to rent to someone because they have children or a couple that isn’t married
- Refusal to even show a property to certain buyers (while freely showing it to others)
- Imposing different terms or conditions on the sale or rental of a home based only on a protected characteristic
- Lying about whether a property is even still available for rent or sale to certain people
- Refusal to take an application for a mortgage from potential buyers because of prejudices about their race, gender, sexual orientation or another protected characteristic
- Refusing to consider disability-related income, such as pensions, SSDI or SSI, on a mortgage application
- Appraising a home for less than its true worth because of a protected characteristic of its owner
- Giving less favorable terms on loans to some buyers (such as higher interest rates or fees) than others because of a protected characteristic
- A homeowner who won’t consider bids on their property from certain people based on purely discriminatory reasons
- A landlord who has been accused of a fair housing violation retaliating against that tenant, regardless of the outcome of the complaint
- Sexual harrassment by a landlord in favor of or threat to a tenant’s housing
We genuinely believe that equal housing opportunities belong to everyone – and our goal is to eliminate any vestiges of housing discrimination that still remain, but it is an ongoing battle. That’s why it’s important to have reminders that not only is fair housing your right, but that there are powerful agencies and tools available that can help you if you do suffer discriminatory treatment.