Civil Rights

Don't Mention the Neighbors

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The New York Times runs through the "fair housing protections" that are forcing Manhattan real estate agents to purge their listings of "offensive" descriptors:

"What kind of people live in this building?"

That is often the first question brokers are asked by apartment hunters — be they couples with children, retirees seeking peace and quiet or 20-somethings prone to the occasional raucous party.

But in recent months, thousands of brokers have learned that in answering that question, they might just be breaking the law. Many real estate ads, for instance, use "family friendly" to describe large apartments. But according to a strict interpretation of federal, state and local fair-housing laws, that is illegal.

The State Legislature last week passed legislation that will require all brokers seeking to renew their licenses to undergo at least three hours of fair-housing training as part of their 22 ½ hours of continuing education. (Similar training is already required for initial licensing.)

The real estate board joined with the New York State Association of Realtors in March to sponsor the amendment. After Mr. Garfinkel's recent seminar at Gumley Haft Kleier, Ms. Kleier said she had her staff comb through the agency's advertisements and remove wording that suggested a building might be "great for families."

Katherine Mangu-Ward discussed the Fair Housing Act here.

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  1. “Mr. Garfinkel said that the occupation protection is often referred to as “the attorney law,” because it is meant to stop buildings from discriminating against lawyers – some buildings fear that they will be litigious and consequently bad neighbors.”

    HA HA!

    That reminds me of a particular someone… who’s ready to tort up any situation if only for the discovery process… mmm, HCFS.

  2. eh he hem, HFCS

  3. Recently (in the past year) I was apartment-hunting and met with a landlord to see the upper apartment of a duplex home. He refused to disclose any information about the current downstairs tenant, and wasn’t even willing to disclose the tenant’s gender to me. (I just wanted to know if the person was a male or female.) I figured it out, though, because — although I saw lots of male laundry in the basement (which initially threw me off, believing it was a male tenant) — there were a pair of female athletic shoes outside of the door downstairs. Later when I was talking with the landlord I referred to the tenant as “she” and in response, his eyebrows raised and he laughed. That’s what leads me to believe that my best guess was correct. I think I surprised him, although even at that point he still wouldn’t verify the gender. I still think I was right, though. (Unless there was just a guy there who had a live-in girlfriend, which, I suppose, is also possible).

    No point in this anecdote except to say that if you pay close attention to detail, you might be able to decipher some information about your would-be neighbors.

  4. I wonder if apartment hunters are allowed to bring gay-sniffing dogs when checking out the apartment, since that’s not really a search.

  5. crimethink,

    these days, gay sniffing dogs are obsolete.

    Always bring your “Gaydar” with you.

  6. crimethink, it’s the orther way ’round that bothers me.

  7. Ugh. Another reason to cut out those vultures and deal directly with the owner (like I did at my recent move). As if saving the thousands of dollars they gouge out of you wasn’t enough motivation.

  8. I’m not a real estate agent, but I am interning at a real estate firm doing marketing this summer. While I understand why it is illegal to put things like “family friendly” in ads, or steer someone of a particular race or age group toward a specific apartment building, it’s tough not to release some kind of information about what the building is near or if there are other families that reside there.

    Agents and brokers really need to be conscious of what they’re saying to a potential renter of the property. When agents don’t answer questions directly asked by the potential renter, however, I think that they almost grow suspicious. I think that legally, agents should be able to answer whatever is asked by their client, but never reveal more than what is asked.

  9. So in the state’s estimate, “offending” someone with the truth is a greater evil than a person signing a lease without knowing that they’ll be completely miserable for lease’s term?

  10. I have never asked the race of my neighbors, but I assume that’s what most people REALLY want to ask…

  11. The best way is to look at the cars parked there.
    If they were made in the late 80s, count on hearing mariachi at 2 a.m.

  12. ed,

    Seniors like mariachi at 2 a.m.?

  13. Is it against the law if the tenants give out this sort of information?

    For example, the toddler in the apartment directly above me has been crying nonstop since mid-May: 8 a.m., 2 a.m., weekends, you name it. Cry, scream, cry.

    Oh, did I mention that my apartment will be on the market before too long? You should totally move in here.

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