Fair Housing Act Trap for Real Estate Owners and Agents

Do you own or manage rental housing? Are you a real estate agent who deals (at least in part) in residential properties?  If so, the Fair Housing Act likely applies to your business activities.

The Trap

Let’s say you are a real estate agent.  You answer the phone at your office, are informed that the caller wants to buy a house in an area that you serve, look at your calendar, and tell the caller you are open all afternoon the next day.

The caller then mentions that he is in a wheelchair. You decide you don’t want to put in the extra effort to help the caller handle his wheelchair. You suddenly “remember” that you have a prior engagement and tell the caller you won’t be available after all.

Congratulations.  You just violated the Federal Fair Housing Act (and probably a similar state law depending on where you are located).

The Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate against persons who have mental or physical disabilities. A “disability” means a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of the person’s major life activities, a record of having such impairment, or is regarded as having such impairment.

It is illegal to treat a person differently in a housing transaction. Disability rights groups have been known to hire “testers” to call real estate professionals and test them to see if they are treating such persons differently.

The Proper Response

What should you have done when the caller mentioned his wheelchair?  Utter the magic words: “How may I help you?” You have an obligation to make a Reasonable Accommodation to your business processes so the person with the disability has an opportunity to find and purchase a home.

I will elaborate on Reasonable Accommodations in my next post.

Michael Oswald



Please note: the above post contains educational information. It is not intended as legal advice. Engage an attorney who is licensed in your state to get advice on dealing with any specific legal issue.

© 2018 Michael S. Oswald


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