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Realtor view ­- Buyers, renters: are you being treated fairly?

March 4, 2018 GMT

I’d like to tell you that we no longer need laws to protect homebuyers and renters from discrimination, but we’re not there yet. While I hope you never experience discrimination, know that federal law prohibits denying an individual or group the right to buy or rent a home based on race, color, national origin, religion, gender, family status or disability.

So, how widespread is housing discrimination in the 21st century? Fair housing organizations receive about 25,000 to 30,000 complaints each year, according to the National Fair Housing Alliance (NFHA), a coalition of privately run fair housing groups. Yet, testing suggests there are many more instances of discrimination-the NFHA estimates about 3.7 million annually.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has conducted thousands of tests in recent years. HUD uses housing organizations that send testers out to view for-sale and rental properties as a means of determining whether landlords, lenders, agents, and others in the real estate community treat protected classes differently.

Housing discrimination takes many forms, but here are a few real-world scenarios:

An owner or landlord falsely tells you that his property or unit is unavailable because of your religion;

An agent only shows you homes in one neighborhood because that area has a high concentration of residents of your race;

A landlord asks you for a higher deposit on a rental unit than other tenants because you have kids;

A landlord refuses to accommodate your need as a disabled tenant, such as allowing a service animal or installing grab-bars in bathrooms.

When people think about fair housing violations, they usually conjure up images of a slammed door or a restrictive advertisement.

But violations of the Fair Housing Act are not only about a living situation or steering allegations. There are problems in the lending industry, as well. Because the lending process is so complex, it’s difficult to identify discrimination with any consistency.

You may know that members of the National Association of Realtors adhere to a strict Code of Ethics that holds them to higher professional standards than what state and federal law require.

However, you may not know that the Code of Ethics was recently amended to prohibit Realtors from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation, in addition to the seven classes protected under federal law.

Violations of fair-housing laws are not always obvious or easy to detect. After all, unless victims are somehow able to compare their experience to someone else’s, they likely have no reason to suspect any prejudice ever occurred. Fair-housing laws do have teeth, however.

So if you believe you’ve been the victim of housing discrimination, you can submit a formal complaint with HUD (visit HUD.gov) and any local private housing enforcement agency.

Kenya Burrell-VanWormer, with JPMorgan Chase, is 2018 chair of the Houston Association of Realtors/HAR.com.