As real estate agents we always need to treat everyone the same. Well maybe not.
In housing there are protected classes that you can't discriminate based on, someone being a member of one of those classes.
On a federal level the protected classes are:
- Handicap or Disability
- National Origin/ Ancestry
In Hawaii our civil right laws includes all of those classes and a couple more:
- Marital Status
- Sexual orientation
On a federal level there is an exemption for a landlord renting out units in the same building they live in, if there is 4 or fewer units total. In Hawaii the number of total units is reduced to 2. The one exception to that rule is race. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 prevents discrimination for race.
Now for the "maybe not" part of my opening statement. Here are a few examples of legal discrimination.
- Color: If you don't have the green, you don't get the home. You can always discriminate on basis of credit or funds. (Unless you are Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac)
- History: You can discriminate and the basis of a person's housing history. Have they trashed previous rentals or do they have a history of not paying their rent.
- Pets: You do not have to allow pets. In Hawaii we have a couple of exceptions to that rule. You can't refuse to allow housing for someone with a service animal, whether it be a trained seeing eye dog or an emotional support pet.
- Drug Use: You can discriminate against someone who has a drug or alcohol addiction. You can discriminate against smokers. In Hawaii you can't discriminate against someone who is in recovery. That falls under handicap.
My favorite story about testing fair housing laws; was the story of a landlord in New York City who had a policy of not renting to lawyers. One day he refused to rent to an attorney and got sued. The judge asked the landlord if it was true that he refused to rent the potential tenant, based on him being a lawyer. The landlord responded, "that is absolutely true your honor." The judge asked the landlord to explain his policy. The landlord responded, "Look where I am standing."
The moral of the story is that you can discriminate for reasons that do not fall under protected classes. Anytime you treat one group differently than another, you still may get sued, especially if they are lawyers.
All kidding aside.
- Keep good records.
- Be consistent with your policies and procedures.
- Always remember almost everyone falls under at least one protected class or another so you better be prepared to defend your actions.
- If you do not feel you can treat people equally, find another line of work.
Randy L. Prothero, REALTOR®
Broker-in-Charge, ABR, AHWD, CRB, CRS, e-PRO, GRI, MRP, SFR
Team Leader - "The Prothero Group"
Randy Prothero is well established as an expert in working with military / VA clients and first time home buyers. His home seller's (listing) campaign is one of the most aggressive marketing programs in the area. His luxury home listings sell faster and for more money.
Based out of Mililani, Hawaii. Randy services the island of Oahu (Honolulu County) Performs mediations and ombudsman services for the Board of Realtors. To improve overall professionalism in his area Randy also offers classes for real estate agents.