As a REALTOR®️ association, we pride ourselves on being inclusive and helping all potential buyers find the homes they seek. Both the Fair Housing Act and the Code of Ethics of the National Association of REALTORS®️ (NAR) are clear: discrimination is unacceptable.
The Fair Housing Act forbids discrimination based on “race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability,” and NAR’s Code of Ethics additionally prohibits housing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, the Illinois Human Rights Act adds marital status, age (over 40), military status, unfavorable military discharge, ancestry, sexual orientation, and order of protection status. Several local governments such as Cook County, Naperville, & Urbana have added source of income.
Newsday recently released the investigative documentary and series “Long Island Divided,” a striking look at how racial discrimination can still arise in home searches. None of the real estate agents investigated by Newsday are from our state, but this video provides an important moment for reflection and learning for everyone in the real estate field.
Core Principles of Fair Housing
The documentary is an important reminder that every client must always be treated consistently. Period.
NAR’s Code of Ethics outlines a commitment to equal professional service, which includes:
consistent practices in making the initial contact with consumers
gathering objective information about consumers' needs
letting consumers set their own limits
offering a variety of choices
keeping accurate records of all of the above
Those “consistent practices” include applying the same expectations to all potential homebuyers. For example, if a brokerage has a policy not to show homes to anyone who is not preapproved for a mortgage loan, it must uphold this policy with every potential client and not make exceptions.
They also require consistency in using safety tools such as Forewarn, which Mainstreet provides to all members so that they can run background checks and ensure their own safety. It is critical that agents use tools such as Forewarn with every client, not selectively.
Steering, which is prohibited under the Fair Housing Act, is not always explicit. That’s why gathering and providing objective rather than subjective information is also a key tenant of fair housing. For more information on how REALTORS®️ can and cannot discuss things like school districts, read NAR’s “Steering, Schools, and Equal Professional Service”
Fair Housing Trainings in Illinois
In Illinois, every real estate agent is required to renew their license every two years. To do so, they must complete continuing education courses. Fair housing is a part of this core coursework. Topics covered include the history of fair housing; all of the protected classes covered by federal, state and local law; case studies; discriminatory practices; discriminatory advertising; best practices when encountering discriminatory conduct and more.
Annette Akey Panzek, a Mainstreet trainer and a broker with EXIT Realty Redefined, incorporates fair housing topics into many of the classes she leads.
“In the marketing course, we cover the types of ads REALTORS®️ can and cannot use and how that relates to fair housing,” Akey Panzek said. “In the rentals course, we spend over an hour talking about fair housing and how it applies to screening tenants, because over 87 percent of fair housing complaints nationally actually come from rentals.”
Akey Panzek’s courses often include in depth discussions of the subtleties of ethically working with clients in a non-discriminatory way.
“I work to educate students not just about what fair housing laws are, but about how they actually impact people,” Akey Panzek said. “The REALTORS®️ I train tend to be very aware of the protected classes such as race, color and religion, but many of the other protected classes need clarification so agents understand exactly how the regulations apply. We talk through their questions about how they can respond to client requests and what they can and cannot do when advertising and working with homebuyers, sellers, landlords, and tenants in practice.”
Outside of her work with Mainstreet, Akey Panzek also teaches pre-license classes with the College of DuPage, where many students learn about the specifics of fair housing law for the first time.
As fair housing law and the NAR Code of Ethics evolve to include more protected classes and address new concerns, Mainstreet is adding new trainings to ensure that REALTORS®️ are educated in every aspect of fair housing. Akey Panzek currently has a 2 hour course awaiting approval from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) on how both the Fair Housing Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act apply to people with assistance animals. Many existing courses have also incorporated discussion about relatively recent additions to fair housing laws, including: Illinois establishing a protected class based on order of protection status, and local law establishing a protected class based on the use of section eight housing vouchers.
Mainstreet members can always find a list of our upcoming continuing education courses on the Mainstreet website. Additional Fair housing education materials are also available through the NAR’s online store.
Providing fair and equal treatment to all homebuyers must be central to the work of all REALTORS®️. Mainstreet is committed to continuing to provide the highest quality training to our members on this vital topic, so that we can continue to serve the needs of Northern Illinois consumers of all backgrounds.
Mainstreet’s diversity statement: We are an organization committed to sharing values of diversity and inclusion in order to achieve and sustain excellence.
We recognize that the responsibility for excellence, diversity and inclusion lies with all of us at the association: leadership, volunteers and staff.