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Fair housing do's and don'ts

FREDERICK, Md. – April 11, 2016 – Located in a desirable neighborhood. Adult females only. No homosexuals. Must be employed.
Some of these descriptions for a house for sale quickly sound alarm bells, while others seem innocuous.
But all violate federal fair housing laws, as detailed by Don Martin in a conference in Maryland last week. Martin is director of board and member services for the Maryland Association of Realtors.
“I have no idea what a desirable neighborhood is,” Martin said, referring to one of the more commonly occurring potential violations. “And if that’s a desirable neighborhood, what’s an undesirable neighborhood?”
The annual event, organized by the city of Frederick Fair Housing Commission and Frederick County Association of Realtors, drew a mix of longtime and new Realtors, along with Frederick County Public Schools students and city employees, for a half-day conference of education and awareness.
At first glance, fair housing laws and ordinances may seem fairly straightforward. But as Martin described in the 90-minute class that capped off the event, the host of federal, state and local restrictions and the nuances they include complicate the issue.
Angela Brinkley-Morris, a Realtor with Professional Property Services, agreed.
“You think you’re doing the right thing, but then you take this class and it makes you question all of your actions,” she said.
It’s not illegal, for example, to prohibit smoking or drinking alcohol in a housing unit. But listing a property for sale as “adults only” violates federal fair housing law.
Even that rule has exceptions. If the housing is intended solely for people 62 or older, or for at least one person older than 55, an adults-only provision is acceptable. But a Realtor can’t directly ask a potential buyer for his or her age, as long as it’s verified that he or she is older than 18 for contractual purposes.
Precedent from court decisions and interpretations further muddy the waters when navigating through fair housing regulations.
Even for an experienced Realtor like Brinkley-Morris, it can seem confusing.
“The longer I am in this business, the harder fair housing law has become to navigate,” she said.
To Susan Minso, who works in rental operations for Property Management People, a management company with offices on Thomas Johnson Drive, the flood of information seemed overwhelming.
“I’m just trying to wrap my head around it,” she said.
Unlike the Realtors who made up the majority of the roughly 30 people in the audience, Minso was not required to take the class. She participated at the recommendation of her boss.
Regardless of experience level, Martin urged all attendees to err on the side of caution.
If a buyer asks to look at homes in a Jewish neighborhood, refer them to the local government, school board or Census information. When writing an advertisement for a property, use general, inclusive terms. Consult lawyers and government ordinances.
“If not, you may be asking for trouble,” he warned.
Barbara Swanhart, a Realtor with Re/Max Results in Frederick, echoed his advocacy for the importance of education.
“It’s always good to refresh my understanding of fair housing laws and requirements,” she said.
Copyright © 2016 The Frederick News-Post (Frederick, Md.), Nancy Lavin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Source: Florida Realtors Feed

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