Business information written specifically for newspaper advertising departments

"No ____ Allowed":

What You Can and Cannot Say in Real Estate Advertising
Both the publisher and advertiser are potentially liable when it comes to violations of the Fair Housing Act, so be aware of federal and local laws when it comes to placing real estate ads. When in doubt, keep the focus on the property and the features of the property, avoiding anything that could potentially favor one group over the other.

The Fair Housing Act, passed by Congress in 1968, was designed to protect renters and buyers from potential discrimination by sellers or landlords. The Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status or national origin; it also prohibits the making, printing and publishing of advertisements that state a preference. Individual state and local laws further protect persons against discrimination based on sexual orientation, age, marital status and source of income. Both the publisher and advertiser are potentially liable when it comes to violations of the Act, so be aware of federal and local laws when it comes to placing real estate ads.

When in doubt, keep the focus on the property and the features of the property, avoiding anything that could potentially favor one group over the other. That includes avoiding catchwords like “private,” “integrated” and “exclusive.” Even if sounds innocent, steer away from saying things like “great for joggers,” and instead mention how the property is near an exercise or hiking trail.

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT GUIDELINE EXAMPLES

Race, color, national origin. Advertisements should not state a specific preference or limitation based on race, color or national origin. Do not use racial or ethnic terms to describe the current or potential residents or the neighbors/neighborhood. Advertisements that are facially neutral will not create liability; this includes phrases like: “rare find” or “desirable neighborhood.”

Religion. Advertisements should not contain an explicit preference or limitation on account of religion. Ads that use the legal name of an entity that notes a religious reference (for example, Roselawn Catholic Home), or that contains a spiritual symbol (such as a cross) standing alone, may indicate religious preference. However, if such an advertisement includes a disclaimer (“This Home does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap or familial status”) it will not violate the Act. Advertisements containing descriptions of properties (apartment complex with chapel) or services (kosher meals available) do not on their face state a preference for persons likely to make use of those facilities, and are not violations of the Act. Secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays do not constitute a violation of the Act.

Sex. Advertisements for single-family dwellings or separate units in a multi-family dwelling should contain no explicit preference or limitation based on sex. Use of the term “master bedroom” does not constitute a violation of either the sex or race discrimination provisions. Terms such as “mother-in-law suite” and “bachelor apartment” are commonly used as physical descriptions of housing units and do not violate the Act (but don’t suggest that only bachelors rent or apply).

Disabilities. Advertisements should not contain explicit exclusions based on handicap. Ads containing descriptions of properties (great view, fourth-floor walk-up, walk-in closets), services or facilities (jogging trails) or neighborhoods (walk to bus-stop) do not violate the Act. If they describe the conduct required of residents (“non-smoking,” “sober”), they do not violate the Act. Also, descriptions of accessibility features are lawful (wheelchair ramp).

Familial status. Advertisements may not state an explicit preference based on familial status. They may not contain limitations on the number or age of children, or state a preference for adults, couples or singles. Describing the properties, services and facilities or neighborhoods is not facially discriminatory and does not violate the Act.
For more details of HUD’s guidelines, download the PDF from: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/disabilities/sect804achtenberg.pdf

EXCEPTIONS TO THE RULE

Shared-living Quarters. When advertising a housing unit where the bathroom, kitchen, or common area will be shared, you may express a preference based on sex only.

Private Club or Religious Exemptions. As long as the community or club does not restrict based on race, color or national origin, they may restrict tenancy to club members only, and their advertisements may reflect this.

Housing for Older Persons. Complexes for elderly persons are exempt from prohibitions on familial status discrimination, including in advertising.

SO WHO’S ACCOUNTABLE?

Think nobody’s paying attention? Think again! Scott Badami, attorney and editor of the Fair Housing Defense blog, states that “many fair housing testers specifically look for advertisements with potentially questionable content and then they file a case with HUD.”

Publishers will not be held accountable in situations where an advertisement may indicate a preference that is not readily apparent to an ordinary reader. These murky situations usually involve one of the aforementioned exceptions.

Example 1:  An advertisement that includes the phrase “female roommate wanted” — when taking the information, a publisher can assume this property to be a shared-living arrangement. If it turns out that the dwelling is not a shared-living space, the advertisement would be a violation of the Act, and the advertiser would be at fault.

Example 2:  A publisher can assume the property for an advertisement that indicates that it’s “elderly housing” does indeed qualify for the “housing for older persons” exemption. If this proves to not be the case, the advertiser would be in violation of the Act.

FAIR HOUSING ACT: WORD AND PHRASE LIST (excerpt)

Not acceptable
Able-bodied
Adult community
Adult living
Agile
Bachelor pad
Couples only
Female
Gentleman(‘s)
Handicap parking, no
Handyman
Individual
In-law quarters
Mature complex
Mature persons
Newlyweds
One person
One child
Play area, no
Restricted
Retired/retirement/retiree
Senior discount
Single person
Singles only
Traditional neighborhood

Use With Caution
Active
Bachelor
Drinkers, no
Exclusive
Executive
Gender
Landlord (description of)
Landmark reference(s)
Mature
Membership approval required
One person
Prestigious
Private
Quality neighborhood
Safe neighborhood
Secluded
Section 8, no
Secure
Smokers, no
Sophisticated
Stable
Traditional (settings)
Tranquil setting
Walking distance of, within

Acceptable
College students, no
Convalescent home
Drinking, no
Employed, must be
Family, great for
Membership available
Mother-in-law apartment
Nice
Non-smokers
Non-drinkers
Pets limited to assistance animals
Privacy
References required
Se habla espanol
Seasonal workers, no
Section 8 accepted/welcome
Security provided
Single-family home
Smoking, no
Sober
Students
Traditional style
Unemployed, no
Verifiable income