Fair Housing advertising issues and violations are more common than you may think.  HUD provides advertising guidelines for compliance which this article covers.

In case you’re asking yourself why you should read this particular article, the fact is that if you work in the housing industry, you need to know your responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act, because regardless of your position, you are probably “advertising” every day.  Fair Housing advertising involves every member of your team.

Fair Housing Advertising Mediums

Advertising under the Fair Housing Act doesn’t just mean ads in newspapers. The law says you can’t “make, print, or publish. . . any notice, statement, or advertisement . . . that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a person’s race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.” That includes such things as applications, flyers, brochures, deeds, signs, banners, posters, billboards, and even pictures in your office.

It also means that the things you say about your property in writing, over the phone or in person are covered. Expressing an illegal preference or limitation to one of your fellow agents, brokers, employees, prospective sellers, renters, or to any other person in connection with the sale or rental of your property is illegal. Here are two examples of illegal advertising that you may not have realized were violations of the Fair Housing Act.

A maintenance man tells a passer-by that “only real Americans” lived in the apartment complex where he worked.

A rental office is decorated with many large pictures of the residents participating in the community’s facilities and amenities such as exercising in the weight room, swimming, and playing volley ball and tennis. However, all of the pictures are of white, young, “yuppies;” none of the pictures shows children, or persons of differing races or nationalities.

As you can see it does not take much for a statement to be taken out of context or representation to be misinterpreted.

Policies and Procedures

Condominiums, apartment complexes and mobile home parks that have written rules and regulations have always been fertile breeding grounds for Fair Housing advertising violations. (How many condominium documents still prohibit anyone under 16 years of age from living there, although that kind of “statement” has been illegal for many years?)

The lesson here? Wipe the dust off of your policies and procedures and make sure they are up to date with current Fair Housing advertising regulations.

Phrases and Words To Avoid

The law says you can’t use “words, phrases, photographs, illustrations, symbols or forms of any kind” which tend to give the impression that your property is available (or not available) only to certain types of people. Believe it or not, it is still fairly common to see a “no children, no pets” ad. “No pets” is okay; “no children” is not. It is also illegal to advertise for a “Christian roommate,” or to indicate any other type of religious preference.

HUD provides Fair Housing advertising guidelines as to what is acceptable in Fair Housing advertising. While advertisements cannot state a preference or limitation based on race or color, statements such as “master bedroom” and “desirable neighborhood” are not illegal. And while religious discrimination is illegal, using words like “kosher meals served on the premises,” or including phrases such as “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Easter” in an ad is not discriminatory either.

There are even words that are restricted when it comes to people with disabilities. Obviously statements such as “no wheelchairs” are illegal. However, using phrases such as “great view,” “walk-in closets” or “walk to bus stop” is acceptable. There are certain “buzz” words you should still avoid. These are words or phrases that have been associated with discriminatory practices in the past. They include such words as “restricted,” “exclusive,” “limited,” and so forth.

The “good news” is that HUD will consider your use of certain kinds of advertising words and slogans to be evidence of your compliance with the Fair Housing Act. For example, using HUD’s “Equal Housing Opportunity” or fair housing logo in your ads will be viewed with approval. Displaying a fair housing poster in your office is another way to advertise in a positive manner. Incidentally, to put one more rumor to rest – use of the logo is not required.

Another way to produce positive advertisements is to vary the use of human models in your ads so that both majority and minority groups in your community, both sexes, persons with disabilities and, when appropriate, children of all ages are represented.

Fair Housing Advertising Word and Phrase List

This word and phrase list is intended as a guideline to assist in complying with state and federal fair housing laws. It is not intended as a complete list of every word or phrase that could violate any local, state, or federal statutes.

This list is intended to educate and provide general guidance to the many realtors and companies that create and publish real estate advertising. This list is not intended to provide legal advice. By its nature, a general list cannot cover particular persons’ situations or questions. The list is intended to make you aware of and sensitive to the important legal obligations concerning discriminatory real estate advertising.

Additional notes are at the bottom of this page.

BOLD — not acceptable     ITALIC — caution     STANDARD — acceptable
# of bedrooms
# of children
# of persons
# of sleeping areas
55 and older community*
able-bodied
Active
adult community
adult living
adult park
adults only
African, no
Agile
AIDS, no
Alcoholics, no
American Indians, no
Appalachian, no
Asian
Assistance animal(s)
Assistance animal(s) only
Bachelor
Bachelor pad
Bisexuals, no
Blacks, no
blind, no
board approval required
Catholic
Caucasian
Chicano, no
children, no
Chinese
Christian
Churches, near
college students, no
Colored
Congregation
Convalescent home
Convenient to
Couple
couples only
Credit check required
crippled, no
Curfew
Deaf, no
Den
disabled, no
domestics, quarters
Drug users, no
Drugs, no
employed, must be
empty nesters
English only
Equal Housing Opportunity
ethnic references
Exclusive
Executive
families welcome
families, no
family room
family, great for
female roommate**
female(s) only**
fixer-upper
gated community
Gays, no
Gender
golden-agers only
golf course, near
group home(s) no
guest house
handicap accessible
handicap parking, no
Handicapped, not for
healthy only
Hindu
Hispanic, no
HIV, no
Homosexuals, no
housing for older persons/seniors*
Hungarian, no
Ideal for . . . (should not describe people)
impaired, no
Indian, no
Integrated
Irish, no
Italian, no
Jewish
kids welcome
Landmark reference
Latino, no
Lesbians, no
male roommate**
males(s) only**
man (men) only**
Mature
mature complex
mature couple
mature individuals
mature person(s)
Membership approval required
membership available
Mentally handicapped, no
Mentally ill, no
Mexican, no
Mexican-American, no
Migrant workers, no
Military
Mormon Temple
Mosque
Mother in law apartment
Muslim
Nanny’s room
Nationality
Near
Negro, no
Neighborhood name
Newlyweds
Nice
non- smokers
Nursery
nursing home
Older person(s)
one child
one person
Oriental, no
Parish
perfect for . . . (should not describe people)
pets limited to assistance animals
pets, no
Philippine or Philippinos, no
physically fit
play area, no
preferred community
Prestigious
Privacy
Private
Private driveway
Private entrance
Private property
Private setting
Public transportation(near)
Puerto Rican, no
Quality construction
quality neighborhood
Quiet
Quiet neighborhood
references required
religious references
Responsible
Restricted
retarded, no
Retirees
Retirement home
safe neighborhood
school name or school district
se habla espanol
seasonal rates
seasonal worker(s)
Secluded
section 8 accepted/ welcome
No section 8
Secure
security provided
senior adult community*
senior citizen(s)*
senior discount
senior housing*
senior(s)*
sex or gender**
Shrine
single family home
single person
single woman, man**
singles only
sixty-two and older community*
Smoker(s)
Smoking, no
Snowbirds*
sober
Sophisticated
Spanish speaking
Spanish speaking, no
Square feet
Straight only
student(s)
Students, no
Supplemental Security Income (SSI), no
Synagogue, near
temple, near
tenant (description of)
Townhouse
traditional neighborhood
traditional style
tranquil setting
Transgendered, no
two people
Unemployed, no
Verifiable Income
walking distance of , within
Wheelchairs, no
White
White(s) only
winter rental rates
winter/summer visitors*
woman ( women) only**

* Permitted to be used only when complex or development qualifies as housing for older persons

** Permitted to be used only when describing shared living areas or dwelling units used exclusively as dormitory facilities by educational institutions

All cautionary words are unacceptable if utilized in a context that states an unlawful preference or limitation. Furthermore, all cautionary words are “red flags” to fair housing enforcement agencies. Use of these words will only serve to invite further investigation and/or testing.

This word and phrase list is intended as a guideline to assist in complying with state and federal fair housing laws. It is not intended as a complete list of every word or phrase that could violate any local, state, or federal statutes.

This list is intended to educate and provide general guidance to the many businesses in the Miami Valley that create and publish real estate advertising. This list is not intended to provide legal advice. If you are in need of legal advice, please see an attorney. By its nature, a general list cannot cover particular persons’ situations or questions. The list is intended to make you aware of and sensitive to the important legal obligations concerning discriminatory real estate advertising.

Fair Housing Advertising – The Bottom Line

Fair housing advertising need not be a scenario that causes you unnecessary anxiety.  Education and Fair Housing training are an absolute must.  Reinforce this training with regular reminders via your weekly calls, company newsletter or something similar.  The more interactions that your team members have with residents and prospective residents, the more you want to provide them with positive reminders.  You can easily make Fair Housing so scary that it can turn your team into cold robots.  Allow them to be human and friendly but with clear and concise direction.

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