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8 Fair Housing Terms Every Agent Should Know

Julia Lashay Israel offers a glossary to help you navigate the complex landscape of fair housing regulations and provide fair and equal service to all clients.



Getting familiar with fair housing terms is crucial for new real estate agents to ensure they comply with legal requirements and provide equal service to all clients. Here are some key terms they should learn:


1. Fair Housing Act (FHA): The primary federal law that governs fair housing practices, which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, or national origin.


2. Discrimination: Discrimination in real estate refers to the unfair treatment of individuals or groups in housing-related activities based on characteristics that are protected by law. Examples of discrimination in real estate may be:


  • A landlord refuses to rent an apartment to a family with children

  • Preferring to rent only to adults

  • A property manager requires a higher security deposit from tenants of a particular race

  • A real estate advertisement states that a property is “ideal for young professionals” and discourages families with children from applying.


3. Protected classes: These are groups of people protected by fair housing laws, including race, color, religion, sex (which includes gender and sexual orientation), handicap, familial status, and national origin. Discrimination against these classes is illegal.


4. Reasonable accommodation: A reasonable accommodation is a change, exception, or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice, or service that is necessary for a person with a disability to have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling. This requirement is intended to ensure that individuals with disabilities are not discriminated against and can fully access and enjoy their housing. Examples of reasonable accommodation are:


Allowing a tenant to have a service animal

Providing a designated accessible parking space close to the entrance of the building

modifying a lease requirement, such as allowing a live-in aide for a tenant with a disability.


5. Reasonable modification: A reasonable modification refers to structural changes made to a dwelling or common areas to enable a person with a disability to have full enjoyment of the premises. Unlike reasonable accommodations, which are changes in rules, policies, or services, reasonable modifications involve physical alterations to the property.


These modifications are often paid for by the tenant. Examples of reasonable modifications are:


  • installing a ramp to provide wheelchair access to a building entrance

  • adding grab bars in bathrooms to assist with stability and movement

  • adjusting doorways to accommodate wheelchair access.


6. Redlining: Redlining is a discriminatory practice in real estate and lending where services, such as mortgages, insurance, or loans, are denied or made more expensive for residents of certain areas based on racial or ethnic composition. The term “redlining” comes from the practice of using red ink to mark areas on maps, typically minority neighborhoods, where financial institutions would avoid making investments.


7. Steering: Steering is an unethical and illegal practice where real estate agents or brokers guide prospective home buyers or renters towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on race, ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics. This practice reinforces residential segregation and violates the Fair Housing Act. Examples of steering may include:


  • only showing homes in certain neighborhoods to clients based on their race or ethnicity

  • advising clients against looking at homes in particular neighborhoods based on the agent’s perception of where they should live

  • providing different levels of service or information to clients based on their background. For instance, giving more detailed information about school quality and amenities to clients of certain races or making comments about the racial, ethnic, or religious composition of neighborhoods to influence a client’s decision.


8. HUD (Department of Housing and Urban Development): The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is a federal agency responsible for national policies and programs that address America’s housing needs, improve and develop the nation’s communities and enforce fair housing laws. HUD’s involvement with fair housing is central to its mission to ensure equal housing opportunities for all Americans.


Learning and understanding these terms will help new agents navigate the complex landscape of fair housing regulations and provide fair and equal service to all clients.


By Julia Lashay Israel



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