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  • Writer's pictureKira Witherwax

Fair Housing Month

Updated: Nov 22, 2022

Who is a protected class and what does that mean to you or me? The short answer is that if you are human, you are in a protected class, many, actually. For example, whether you have children or don’t have children, you are protected either way. Same with if you’re white or black, old or young, male or female. I’m sure you’ve heard people say “I think this would be a great home to raise a family” or “I’m sure the buyer will be young, retirees aren’t going to need all this space.” The truth is I’ve had people in their 60’s buy 2500 sq ft colonials and I’ve had people with 3 kids want single floor living. This is why we can’t assume what someone from a particular group will want in a home and can discriminate against whether or not they have an opportunity to purchase it. We don’t get to decide what house best suits someone’s wants or needs.

April is Fair Housing month, so it’s a good opportunity to understand this better so that we can make sure all the people in our communities have the same access to housing. Protected classes were identified to reduce discrimination in housing. Unfortunately, our country has a deep history when it comes housing to discrimination, both blatant and subtle. There are still deeds in NY state that have language excluding people of a certain ethnicity from purchase the property. Those are now illegal thankfully, but the fact that they still exist, shows where we were and how far we’ve come. In NYS it is unlawful for any property owner, landlord, property manager or other person who sells, rents or leases housing, to discriminate based on race, creed, color, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, age, disability, marital status, lawful source of income or familial status.

What does this mean for buyers and sellers? As a buyer it means you have a right to view and pursue any property you have the financial means to afford. It means you should be directing your agent in terms of your wants and needs, in terms of location, school district, type of house, neighborhood, etc. Not the other way around. It also means the seller cannot discriminate against you based on any of the factors above. A good buyer’s agent will share as little as possible about you with the seller’s agent. All they need to know is, are you financially qualified and what are the terms of your offer. This is also why a good buyer’s agent will not let you write what we call “love letters”. This use to be common practice; where a buyer would write a note to the seller to submit with their offer explaining why the seller should pick them. The problem is these letters almost always talked about the personal characteristics of the buyers. “Our kids would love it here" etc. It best protects you to not share those details.

From a seller’s perspective, the best advice I can give is to only look at the info presented to you. Look at the pre-qualification letter and the offer details. Then discuss those with your agent, not what the buyers may have looked like or how old they are. Most of the time a seller’s agent isn’t going to know anything about the buyers other than the offer anyway, but if they happen to know more, a good seller’s agent will tell you as little as possible. This protects you as the seller. If you don’t know anything about the buyer’s characteristics, you can’t discriminate or be accused of discriminating based on those characteristics. This is also one of the many reasons it is best if you, as the seller, and your agent are not present for showings.

This is certainly a very broad overview of Fair Housing laws and real estate. For more information please visit the NYS Division of Human Rights website.

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