Fair Housing and Advertising

Fair Housing and Advertising

fhco_logoFollowing is a guest post by Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.

I recently reread a 2009 report produced by the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) on how internet housing ads perpetuate discrimination. As we can attest from our own office’s investigations, illegal ads are prolific online, decades after the Fair Housing Act made them illegal. Following are some highlights from the report.

There is no disagreement that landlords, real estate agents, and others who create and place these discriminatory ads are legally liable for violating the Fair Housing Act. In passing the Fair Housing Act in 1968, Congress wanted to hold publishers responsible for third parties as a way of eliminating the problem most efficiently.

Every day in the United States, thousands of people view rental advertisements that illegally deny housing to families with children and others protected by the federal Fair Housing Act. Although newspapers have been held liable under the Fair Housing Act for publishing discriminatory housing advertisements with statements such as “no kids,” or “couples only,” the publishers of similar ads on the internet have not been held to the same legal standard.

In order to address this disparity in the law, which holds print advertisements and online advertisements to separate and unequal standards, the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA) urges Congress to amend the Communications Decency Act.

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to make, print, or publish; or cause to be made, printed, or published; housing ads that discriminate, limit, or deny equal access to apartments or homes because of race, color, national origin, sex, religion, familial status, and disability. [There are, of course, additional state and locally protected classes.]

In order to comply with the Fair Housing Act, newspapers utilize screening systems to keep advertisements containing discriminatory statements from being printed. [And they’re often much more conservative than fair housing advocates are! Take a look at FHCO’s popular article, The List, for more on this and related urban legends.] However, a legal interpretation of the Communications Decency Act (CDA) holds that interactive internet providers, like Craigslist, are not publishers and therefore are not liable for violating the Fair Housing Act if discriminatory housing ads are published on their sites.

Yet it needn’t be difficult. Internet providers can implement filtering systems just as print publications can (arguably it’d be easier for them to do so) to prevent individuals from posting illegally discriminatory verbiage. Either way, whether or not a site is liable in a given situation (we feel it is), the poster most certainly is!

As a housing provider advertising residential properties, you should know that fair housing advocates such as our office, national groups, and others, periodically comb sites and publications for violations. Our advice: treat any form of advertising—whatever your role is in it—as if it falls under federal, state, and/or local fair housing laws. This includes written, printed, online, posted signs, oral statements, etc., whether free or paid.

During the past year, NFHA and [several of its members] identified more than 7,500 discriminatory ads placed by housing providers on various websites. Yet, only 1,000 complaints have been filed with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) because both HUD and private fair housing agencies lack the staff and time to work through the cumbersome process required to identify and bring these landlords to justice.

Sadly, these ads reinforce the message to public readers that refusing to rent, sell, lend, or insure based on any of the protected classes is acceptable and even legal. What’s more, it confuses those who wish to follow the law or would be inclined to if they were better informed. All the reason for the proactive stance FHCO has always taken on education as a tool to eradicate illegal housing discrimination coupled, of course, with enforcement activities—because the battle won’t be won with a carrot alone.

The Fair Housing Act covers all advertising for the rental or sale of homes as well as advertising for home loans, homeowners/renters insurance, and any service related to housing.

Language in the Fair Housing Act and in the regulations implementing the law makes it clear that the law is also intended to prevent newspapers and other media from publishing advertisements or notices that limit housing to specific individuals or indicate a preference for certain people. The law states:
t shall be unlawful to make, print, or publish or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement with respect to the sale of rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on

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The NFHA report identified thousands of ads that violate the Fair Housing Act—in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, including Portland and Bend, Oregon. As a result, the national organization filed over a thousand complaints with HUD against posters.

The most common Fair Housing Act violation that NFHA and its members found on the internet was advertising discriminating against families with children. NFHA found ads stating preferences for tenants who were “single” or “a couple of individuals.” Phrases such as “perfect for young couple” or “three adults” were found in ads for houses or apartments with multiple bedrooms. These ads indicate an illegal preference or limitation and discourage families with children from even considering contacting a landlord. [Note: this is different than occupancy standards.]

Many of the properties with such discriminatory language have multiple bedrooms, and would be ideal for families with children. Some examples of discriminatory language identified include:

  • 2BR: “Mature couple or single with no children” NY
  • 3BR: Duplex: “Christian atmosphere” IN
  • 2BR: “PERFECT FOR TWO ADULTS…seeking a maximum of two tenants” CT
  • 2BR: “Couples preferred” IL
  • 4BR: “Looking for responsible adults to enjoy home” VT

Even if these happen to be located in designated senior communities, the description of the community as an “adult community” or the advertising of “no kids allowed” is specifically disallowed by HUD.

A couple of my favorites that touch on other protected classes include:

  • “Looking for a white lady who has a car and that’s drawing a check. No children, teenagers” TN
  • “We’re trying to make cheaper rent available for able-bodied people who can do a few things for themselves.” GA

and from here in Oregon…

  • RV Hookup: “Hopefully we can find someone that is a Christian and loves God with all of their hearts” OR

Be sure you’re well informed and complying with both the letter and the spirit of fair housing laws. Schedule a fair housing class for your staff today, or ask your local association when FHCO will be offering a class through them. In the meantime, visit the newly revised Fair Housing Council of Oregon website and make full use of the information and resources posted there. Sign up for the free FHCO electronic newsletter to keep up to speed with developments in the fair housing world.

Read the full report—For Rent: No Kids! How Internet Housing Advertisements Perpetuate Discrimination.

Fair Housing and Advertising

Fair Housing Testing: What Is It?

fhco_logoFollowing is a guest post by Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.

The topic of fair housing testing strikes fear and incites anger in many within the housing industry—independent landlords and professional property managers, sales brokers, mortgage lenders, homeowners’ associations, and other housing providers. Most are very unclear what testing is, and what it isn’t.

First, let me say that as a former REALTOR®, I am well aware that the housing industry is heavily regulated. Legal issues and accompanying regulatory bodies range from licensing law to fair housing law. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO) is not the only organization that performs testing. Those familiar with the sales world, you might recall when the Oregon Real Estate Agency (OREA) conducted audit tests a few years ago to verify that agents were explaining the then-new Agency Disclosure Pamphlet and presenting it for signature upon “first substantive contact” with a prospective client. This is one more example of testing in the industry.

What is Fair Housing Testing?
Who does it? What are the implications for you in your daily practice?

FHCO is not an enforcement agency. We do however conduct enforcement-related activities such as testing or filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or another regulatory governmental agency (such as Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries), either on our own behalf or in assisting a housing consumer who feels a fair housing violation has been committed against them. We also sometimes file lawsuits with private attorneys, especially if testing evidence supports an allegation of a fair housing violation. Each year we also assist hundreds of housing providers and consumers in resolving fair housing problems in an informal manner, to the satisfaction of both parties. A good deal of our day-to-day work focuses on education and outreach to both housing consumers and housing providers about their rights and responsibilities under federal, state, and local fair housing laws (see a list of FHCO classes).

If someone contacts our office with what appears may be a fair housing allegation, we take the information and determine if it is a testable situation. Testing is used to identify ordinary business practices (of a company, an individual, etc) and these practices are usually confirmed with a series of tests. We may use testers who are not simply posing as a housing consumer, but someone who may follow a transaction through to the end and purchase a home, obtain a loan, enter into a lease agreement, etc. These folks aren’t just testers, they’re bonafide prospects currently in the market to buy/lend/lease.

We’d much rather eradicate illegal discrimination through education and making ourselves available for your questions than to “catch” you doing something wrong. Consider us a resource. Did you know that we provide testing as a fee-for-service? Organizations and firms may contract with us to see how staff or members are doing in complying with fair housing laws—the results of these tests are confidential under the terms of the contract.

We also offer a wealth of information available for housing providers on our website. A few pages likely to be of interest:
Housing Provider Information
Public Service Videos
Sample Forms
Translated Materials

Please consider supporting the work we do by joining FHCO today. Support from the housing industry is particularly important as we stand together to ensure housing for all in the spirit of fair housing laws.


Fair Housing and Advertising

Oregon Welcomes the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP)

LizbethHaleThis post was written by Lizbeth Hale—a REALTOR® working in Clackamas, OR who recently helped found the Oregon chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals. She wrote in to share more about the organization with RMLS™ subscribers. NAHREP Oregon will be holding two events this month: a NAHREP mixer on May 8th in Clackamas, and “Winning the Multiple Offer Bidding War,” a class on May 22nd in North Portland.

The National Association of Hispanic Real Estate Professionals (NAHREP) is a trade association with 20,000 members and 45 chapters across the country who are dedicated to advancing sustainable Hispanic ownership. Hispanics are the fastest-growing demographic in the United States, with purchasing power of over $1 trillion and a projected $1.5 trillion by 2015. The Hispanic demographic, currently 52 million, is the second largest consumer group in the US and has increased 42 percent since the 2002 Census. While the overall US population is aging sharply, the median age of the Latino population is 28 years old, squarely within the average new homebuyer age of 26-45 years old. These demographic and consumer trends make it an economic imperative within the housing industry to execute strategies to best serve this burgeoning segment of the US population.

nahrep-oregon-logoNAHREP accomplishes its mission by:

  • educating and empowering the real estate professionals who serve Hispanic home buyers and sellers
  • advocating for public policy that supports the trade association’s mission
  • facilitating relationships among industry stakeholders, real estate practitioners, and other housing industry professionals.

Networking Opportunities
NAHREP conferences, seminars, and our chapter meetings provide a unique forum for the excited exchange between members of ideas, experiences, and shared challenges. These gatherings offer a rich cultural/business connection that our members consider invaluable.

NAHREP is the largest minority trade group in the real estate industry. We have a powerful and influential voice on legislative issues related to lending parameters, business practices, and regulations that affect access to homeownership.

We at NAHREP believe homes should be sold organically and individually whenever possible. This will allow Hispanics and other minority groups to achieve their homeownership goals, while simultaneously stimulating the economy. Property disposition strategies that favor investors and Wall Street firms such as auctions, bulk sales, and “drop-bid” trustee sales should be discontinued in markets where there is strong demand for residential properties.

NAHREP believes public policies can help provide Hispanic and other minority groups with an equal opportunity to become proud American homeowners, as well as provide desperately needed economic activity in the housing market.

As the President of NAHREP Oregon, I believe that it is every professional’s responsibility to get involved with NAHREP. To better understand the diversity growth in Oregon and better serve an underserved community. Hispanics prefer to do business with a professional that understands their culture, even if they don’t speak the same language.

Hispanics will make 40 percent of homebuyers in the next 20 years. The Hispanic population in Oregon is the 18th largest in the nation—467,922, or 12% of the state’s total population. Oregon Hispanics had a purchasing power of $7 billion. In 2009, Oregon was among the ten states with the highest Latino business growth rate in the nation (43.6 percent), with a rate nearly double the national rate of growth. In Oregon, 40% of Hispanics are homeowners.

Fair Housing and Advertising

Fair Housing Is As Easy As ABC, Let’s Do It With Some Poetry! (Part One)

Guest Post Written By Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist, Fair Housing Council of Oregon

In typical Nadeen Green-style, following is a spirited take on the legalities of fair housing law in poetic form. Ms. Green is an attorney who has spoken on fair housing topics to residential rental audiences across the country since the Fair Housing Amendments Act’s inception in 1989.

Here at the Fair Housing Council (FHCO) we make ourselves available to those who feel their fair housing rights have been violated, as well as to those with fair housing questions, including housing providers! If you have a question about your rights or responsibilities under federal, state, and local fair housing laws, please visit us at www.FHCO.org or call our free Hotline at 800/424-3247 Ext. 2.

Click here to read the poem: Fair Housing Poetry Part 1 (A – M)

Fair Housing and Advertising

The “New Language” of Appraisal

Guest Post Written By Bonnie Baldwin, Vice President of the Rose City Chapter of National Association of Independent Fee Appraisers (NAIFA)

The one true constant in our industry is change.  As real estate agents, you have a comprehensive understanding of your market, and you fully describe the properties you list, market and sell. You can identify the components for condition and quality as good, average and poor.  You can define a view and its perception in the market. And, you know how to read the grid section of an appraisal, and comprehend and identify with the comments.

As we all know, when you throw a stone in the water, you get a ripple effect, which in this case will be referred to as the Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD), the “new language” of appraisal. This ripple will require a new understanding of the definitions and terms utilized in an appraisal that will code the quality and condition rating of a property. There will be new codes and abbreviations for rooms below grade, view and location codes. One and two story descriptions of the design/style of a home will be a thing of the past; now it will be architectural descriptions only. 61 different fields on four different appraisal report forms will reflect these new changes.

The Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD) is the “big news” in the appraisal and lending world today. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have established a specific set of responses that all appraisers will be required to comply with for any appraisal being submitted to the secondary market. The intent is to support consistent appraisal reporting, regardless of the geographic location of the property or any localized reporting conventions, by clarifying vague data currently utilized in the typical appraisal report.  

Effective September 1, 2011, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are set to roll out the Uniform Mortgage Data  Program (UMDP) creating a uniform approach for receiving and handling appraisal data with the intent to improve the quality and consistency of appraisal data on loans delivered to the government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs). This standardization was mandated at the direction of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) to improve operational efficiencies and to require appraisers, lenders, and appraisal management companies to conform to the new standardized requirements. HUD/FHA has also indicated they will be implementing the Uniform Appraisal Dataset later this year.

For more specific information about the “New Language” of appraisal, visit Fannie Mae’s website at www.efanniemae.com. Then, search for the Uniform Appraisal Dataset (UAD). Once there, click “UAD Field-Specific Standardization Requirements,” and print pages 34 – 37 for a useful reference of the codes and definitions. As a Certified Appraiser and Vice President of the Rose City Chapter of NAIFA, I encourage you to contact a Board Member or your NAIFA Appraiser at www.ifanw.com for additional information.