This article reviews the advertising guidelines for the sale and rental of residential property established by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).


Avoiding discrimination in advertising

The printing or publishing of an advertisement for the sale or rental of buildings designed for residential occupancy, called dwellings, which indicates a discriminatory preference, is a violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA). [42 United States Code §3604(c)]

The discriminatory preference rule applies to all brokers, developers and landlords in the business of selling or renting dwellings. [42 USC §§3603; 3604]

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

However, 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 discriminatory preference held by the advertiser. When published, the preference could lead to a claim of discriminatory housing practices.

Words in a broker’s real estate advertisement which indicate a particular race, color, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin are considered likely violations of the FFHA.

A broker should be aware of and refuse to use phrases which indicate a preference, even if requested by a seller or landlord, such as:

  • white private home;
  • Jewish home;
  • black home; or
  • adult building.

Catch words which may convey discriminatory preferences and are often used in a discriminatory context should also be avoided. Preferences are often voiced in colloquialisms and words such as restricted, exclusive, private, integrated or membership approval.

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

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

For example, a broker works in a metropolitan area and markets single-family residences (SFRs). A significant number of people residing in the area speak a language other than English.

Although several non-English publications are printed in the area, the broker advertises the residences only in publications printed in English. Also, the broker distributes flyers only in neighborhoods where the majority of the residents speak English.

Since the residence is advertised exclusively in English language media and the broker has limited his advertising to English speaking communities, the broker may be construed as indicating a discriminatory preference for English speaking buyers.

The HUD fair housing poster

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issues guidelines which require real estate brokers marketing dwellings to display a fair housing poster. [24 CFR §§110.1; 110.10]

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

The broker marketing dwellings for sale or rent is to display the fair housing poster:

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

Thus, a broker holding an open house at a SFR listed for resale is not required to display the fair housing poster at the residence.

However, if the dwellings marketed are part of a residential development, the fair housing poster must also 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 employing a broker’s services. [24 CFR §110.10(a)(2)(ii),(3)]

The fair housing posters must be placed where they can be easily seen by any persons 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]

Failure to follow HUD guidelines

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

A real estate broker who follows HUD advertisement guidelines and displays the fair housing poster is less likely to practice a discriminatory preference. The fair housing poster assures potential sellers/landlords and buyers/tenants the broker does not unlawfully discriminate in the services he offers.

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

Complying with HUD guidelines better assists the real estate broker to avoid prima facie violations of fair housing laws. Use of the fair housing poster indicates to the public the broker’s invitation to work with all individuals.