Avoiding discrimination in advertising

Real estate advertising guidelines are issued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The guidelines are the criteria by which HUD determines whether a broker has practiced or will practice wrongful discriminatory preferences in their advertising and availability of real estate services.

HUD guidelines also help the broker, developer and landlord avoid signaling preferences or limitations for any group of persons when marketing real estate for sale or rent.

Marketing real estate for sale or rent

The selective use of words, phrases, symbols, visual aids and media in the advertising of real estate may indicate a wrongful discriminatory preference held by the advertiser. When published, the preference can lead to a claim of discriminatory housing practices by a member of the protected class.

Related video:

Advertising Guidelines for Sales and Rentals

Words in a broker’s real estate advertisement that indicate a particular race, color, sex, sexual orientation, handicap, familial status or national origin are considered violations of the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA).

To best protect themselves, a broker refuses to use phrases indicating a wrongful preference, even if requested by a seller or landlord. Words or phrases indicating a preference in violation of the rights of persons from protected classes include:

  • white private home;
  • perfect for newlyweds;
  • Jewish (or Christian) home;
  • country club nearby;
  • black home;
  • walking distance from the synagogue;
  • ideal bachelor pad;
  • Hispanic neighborhood; or
  • Adult building.

Preferences are often voiced in prejudicial colloquialisms and words such as restricted, exclusive, private, integrated or membership approval.

Indicating a preference by age is an exclusion from unlawful age discrimination when marketing qualified 55-or-over residences or communities.

Selective stereotypical use of media or human models in an advertising campaign can also lead to discrimination against minority groups.

The HUD fair housing poster

The HUD issues guidelines which require real estate brokers selling or renting single family residences (SFR) to display a fair housing poster. [24 Code of Federal Regulations §§110.1, 110.10]

The fair housing poster is available at any HUD office. [24 CFR §110.20]

The fair housing poster needs to displayed:

  • in the broker’s place of business; and
  • at any dwelling offered for sale, other than single family residences (SFRs). [24 CFR §110.10(a)]

Thus, if you hold an open house at an SFR listed for resale, you are not required to display the fair housing poster at the residence.

However, if a dwelling is marketed as part of a residential development, the fair housing poster needs to be displayed by the developer during construction of the development. Later, the poster is to be displayed in the model dwellings whether or not the dwellings are sold through a broker. [24 CFR §§110.10(a)(2)(ii), 110.10(a)(3)]

The fair housing posters need to be placed where they can be easily seen by a person seeking to:

  • engage the services of the broker to list or locate a dwelling; or
  • purchase a dwelling in a residential development. [24 CFR §110.15]

Related video:

A Broker’s Use of the Fair Housing Poster

Failure to follow HUD guidelines

Even though it is required, a broker or agent will not be subject to any penalties for failing to display the fair housing poster. However, failure to display the fair housing poster as required is considered sufficient evidence in a lawsuit to show that a broker practiced discriminatory housing practices. [24 CFR §110.30]

If a broker follows HUD advertisement guidelines and displays the fair housing poster, they are less likely to practice a discriminatory activity. The fair housing poster assures potential sellers/landlords and buyers/tenants the broker does not unlawfully discriminate in the services offered.

Also, the broker following HUD advertising and poster guidelines is in a better position to defend themselves against a fair housing lawsuit.

This article was originally published in May 2013 and has been updated.