The Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed over 50 years ago, but we continue to recognize its importance each year during the month of April. The significance of this legislation cannot be overstated. However, our society continues to struggle with equitable opportunities for everyone, whether in housing, jobs, income, or education. The issues are far from one-dimensional and are often weighed down by history. But this month, we remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Fair Housing Act passed in his memory.
The Fight for Fair Housing
The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1968; however, it was debated in Congress for at least two years prior. The legislation was unable to garner majority support until April 1968. Due to the circumstances of the time and the work of President Lyndon Johnson, the act finally passed on April 11. The tragedy of Dr. King’s assassination on April 4 and the resulting riots, burning, and looting in major cities across the country spurred President Johnson to shepherd the act through Congress. He felt the passage, if completed prior to Dr. King’s funeral, would be a fitting memorial and could help calm the social unrest.
Dr. King had been associated with fair housing as a result of his march in support of the Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966. The rallies in Chicago for racial justice, and specifically open housing, are credited as the inspiration for the Fair Housing Act.
In addition, the Vietnam War had been raging for over 10 years by 1968 and was taking a toll on the young African-American and Hispanic men serving on the front line. The country was sending men off to die while their families left behind couldn’t secure safe, equitable housing. This was not a new issue, but the war had placed it in a different, more glaring, context.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB), the GI Forum, and the National Committee Against Discrimination in Housing all added their voices to the cause and lobbied strongly for passage of the act.
Senator Edward Brook (D-MA), the first African-American elected to the Senate by popular vote, was a strong advocate for the Fair Housing Act. He spoke eloquently about his own inability to secure a home for his family because of his race after returning home from fighting in World War II.
The Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed by President Johnson two days after Dr. King’s funeral. Title VIII of the act is known as the Fair Housing Act.
Rights and Responsibilities Under the Law
If you are a real estate professional, a seller, or a buyer, you should be familiar with the rights afforded you, or which dictate how you conduct business, under the law.
Civil Rights Act of 1866: prohibits all racial discrimination in the sale or rental of property.
Americans with Disabilities Act: prohibits discrimination against persons with disabilities in places of public accommodations and commercial facilities.
Equal Credit Opportunity Act: prohibits discrimination with respect to any aspect of a credit application based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, or age, or because all or part of the applicant’s income derives from any public assistance program.
FAIR HOUSING ACT
The law prohibits any discrimination in the sale, lease or rental of housing, or making housing otherwise unavailable, because of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, and as amended (1988) handicap and familial status.
It’s also important to check your state and local laws which may prohibit discrimination based on additional classes not covered by the federal laws outlined here. These laws protect sellers, buyers, and real estate professionals in slightly different ways. Whatever your role in a transaction, knowing your rights and responsibilities is critical. The National Association of REALTORS® helps interpret the laws to assist all parties in a real estate transaction.
A seller (landlord): cannot deny that housing is available, or advertise that the property is available only to persons of a certain race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. A seller or landlord may not request a buyer or a real estate professional to place any limitations on their behalf.
A buyer: has the right to expect that housing will be available without discrimination or other limitations based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.
A real estate professional: cannot discriminate in a real estate transaction based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. An agent may not fulfill a request by a seller/landlord or buyer to act in a discriminatory manner.
Abiding by the Code of Ethics
The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has their own Code of Ethics that members agree to abide by when conducting business. Article 10 of the Code outlines their standards and support of equal opportunity in housing.
NAR also specifies procedures for filing complaints for alleged violations on the part of home buyers. Cases are filed with local boards of REALTORS® who are charged with enforcing the code and determine the need for corrective actions. Complaints may also be filed with a local office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or at www.hud.gov.
Even with the passing of the Fair Housing Act, noted as the final great achievement of the civil rights era, society continues to wrestle with issues of race. The need for open dialogue, the acceptance of differences, and the belief in the value of every person should be the ideals we work toward together.
This article is for informational purposes only.