Realtors adopt non-discrimination policy

Posted on 25 Nov 2010 at 5:20pm

All members of North America’s largest trade organization must comply with amended code of ethics that now includes protection based on sexual orientation

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

FAIR HOUSING | From left, Texas Pride Realty’s Bob McCranie and Leslie Wilson, Oregon Realtor Steve Strode, NAGLREP founder and Executive Director Jeff Berger, NAGLREP Director and Legislative Liaison Eric Kodner at the National Association of Realtors national meeting in New Orleans earlier this month after an amendment to the trade association’s code of ethics to include sexual orientation passed. (Courtesy Bob McCranie)

A suburban Dallas homeowner once posted this sign: “For Sale by Owner. No Queers.”

Within the city of Dallas, housing discrimination has been illegal since 2002, and if the ordinance had been in effect at the time, the homeowner could have been fined $500 for violating the city’s nondiscrimination housing ordinance.

But while some found the sign offensive, nothing was done.

The sign is now in the archives at Resource Center Dallas.

And since the National Association of Realtors voted to amend its code of ethics to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation at its November meeting, that homeowner could no longer receive help from any of NAR’s more than 1 million members. Any Realtor showing that house would be violating NAR’s code of ethics.

NAR is the largest trade organization in North America.

When the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals organized in 2007, passing this amendment to NAR’s code of ethics was an original goal.

A NAGLREP board member brought the amendment to the Wisconsin state association. That organization then officially introduced it to the national organization.

In May, NAR’s board of directors approved the amendment, which sent it for final approval by a vote by the general membership.

The amendment passed easily on a voice vote at the national meeting in New Orleans earlier this month. By NAR rules, since the proposal did not pass unanimously, opposition could call for a paper ballot, and an Arkansas Realtor who opposed the measure did just that.

But even with the secret vote, the measure passed with 93 percent of the 25,000 convention attendees voting in favor.

According to Jeff Berger, founder of NAGLREP, the only opposition that was voiced concerned federal fair housing laws that do not include sexual orientation.

“But there wasn’t much resistance,” he said.

Still, opposition was expressed on the group’s blog, Berger said, citing the usual biblical and religious excuses to discriminate. He pointed out that those Realtors writing anti-gay comments on the blog would now be considered to be in violation of the organization’s code of ethics and could be sanctioned.

Berger called the code the industry’s own mini-ENDA.

“Clients can’t be discriminated against,” he said. “Realtors can’t discriminate against each other.”

And everyone who works in an office with a Realtor designation now is bound by non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

Should someone violate the code, Berger said they could be brought before NAR’s grievances committee. If found in violation, they risk anything from a warning to losing their membership and the Realtor designation.

Jeff Updike of RE/MAX Urban in Downtown Dallas serves on the board of NAR.

“I don’t know that it’s going to have a huge impact,” Updike said, but he wasn’t downplaying the significance of the new rule.

Updike believes that any sort of discrimination is just bad business and that any agent that does discriminate will probably not survive in the competitive industry.

Berger said that in the last six months, 10 cases of housing discrimination against gays and lesbians have been documented. An older case in Dallas involving an agent refusing to sell property in Oak Lawn because of the area’s connection to the LGBT community ended with that agent leaving the business. Her license status is “suspended.”

NAGLREP has also been asked to prepare a “best practices” chart for Realtors when doing business with the LGBT community.

“We will be presenting it to NAR at the midyear meeting in Washington, D.C. in May 2011,” Berger said.

The last time the NAR code of ethics was changed, Berger said, was in 1988 to include families with children and people with handicaps. That change was made in conjunction with a change to federal law.

“Our next goal is to see the federal Fair Housing law amended,” Berger said.

Updike would also like federal housing regulations to match the new industry standard. He said he expects NAR to support without lobbying for that change.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 26, 2010.

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