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Fair Housing Laws Create Unexpected Pitfalls, Even for Real Estate Pros

Posted Jun 25, 2007 4:31 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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Most Manhattan real estate professionals might not think twice about telling a family with children that they are welcome in a particular building. But that can present pitfalls under various fair housing laws.

And stepped-up enforcement is making some brokers think twice, thrice or even a fourth time about comments that once were universally accepted as appropriate, reports the New York Times.

Neil Garfinkle, a lawyer who gives seminars for the Real Estate Board of New York, advises brokers to talk about the issue with clients right up front. “Then when a question is asked, you can say, ‘Remember we talked about fair-housing laws? This is what’s against the law for me to talk about,’ ” he recounts.

So-called protected classes that can't be discriminated against vary a bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, under state and local laws. While, some prohibitions, such as not discriminating in the sale or rental of housing due to race, are well-understood and unform throughout the country under federal law, others--such as a prohibition in New York City against discussing a client's occupation--can come as a surprise.

“I think that blew everybody’s mind. I don’t think we’ve recovered from that yet.” says Steven James, who is in charge of the Manhattan offices of Prudential Douglas Elliman.

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