More Fair Housing Protection for Real Estate Transactions
The first Fair Housing laws passed in 1866 with the Civil Rights Act; which prohibits all racial discrimination in the sale and rental of property. It took another 102 years (1968) for the government to add color, religion, and national origin to the list of protected classes. Always on the cutting edge of controversial legislation, Virginia did not pass their own Fair Housing law until 1972. The national law was amended again in 1974 to include sex and again in 1988 to include disability and familial status. Many states have passed more inclusive Fair Housing laws, but no state can be less protective than the federal government. Sexual Orientation has become the latest hot topic in the fair housing arena. Virginia has tabled proposed fair housing legislation regarding sexual oriention for at least the last 4 years.
As of January 1, 2011, REALTORS(R) and any person(s) employing a REALTOR(R)’s services must not discriminate against sexual orientation. Although it is not a criminal action to discriminate against sexual orientation in housing in Virginia, if you hire a REALTOR(R) it becomes an ethics violation for the agent. What exactly does this mean for consumers? Nationwide, REALTORS(R) are not allowed to answer questions regarding the assumed, perceived, or founded sexual orientation of anyone involved in a real estate transaction. If a client or customer asks any questions regarding this issue they must be informed of the REALTOR(R)’s obligation to not discriminate. If the REALTOR(R) answers any questions they are now at risk of being found in violation of the REALTOR(R) Code of Ethics. Possible penalties for violating the Code of Ethics include fines up to $5000, mandatory education courses to help prevent future violations, and loss of REALTOR(R) status.
Why did the National Association of REALTORS(R) think it necessary to add a new protected class outside many state laws? The answer is quite simple. The Obama administration has made it clear that they want HUD’s housing programs available to all regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. A REALTOR(R) needs to have the ability to offer their clients the best possible housing choices. The ability to discriminate based on sexual orientation prevents REALTORS(R) from being able to perform their task to the best of their ability. NAR(R) also sited that many states and local municipalities already legally protect sexual orientation with Fair Housing laws.
Fair Housing violations are taken very seriously by local, state, and national REALTOR(R) associations. In states that have laws against discrimination based on sexual orientation, violations are not only subject to ethical scrutiny, but carry heavy legal consequences. Again, Virginia does not legally recognize sexual orientation as protected class, however, Virginia REALTORS(R) must protect sexual orientation in real estate transactions.
(Alexandria City, Arlington County, Fairfax County, and Falls Church City legally protect sexual orientation).