Advocates say incident highlights need to amend code of ethics
Real estate agent Kimzie Sandmann had the right to tell a seller of two Dallas properties that she believes the gay "lifestyle" is "harmful," and that she wouldn’t assist a person in buying or selling a home in a gay area.
But the National Association of Gay and Lesbian Real Estate Professionals, established in May 2007, is hoping to change the rules to protect lesbians and gays from discrimination.
"It’s a major concern right now," said Jeff Berger, a Delray, Fla., founder of NAGLREP.
Former Dallas resident Mark Johnson sent approximately 100 real estate agents an e-mail saying he wanted to sell his two high-end Dallas properties, including one that was in a "gay area."
Johnson said he needs to sell the properties because he has relocated to Seattle for work. He also noted in his e-mail that he would pay the buyer’s agent a 6 percent commission in hopes of selling the properties more quickly.
On April 24, two days after sending the e-mails, he received a response from Sandmann, a Keller Williams Realty agent who is self-employed — as are most real estate agents — but who is affiliated with The Keller Williams Dallas City Center.
"I would not assist a person to live in a GAY area. Licensed agents are accountable to help clients, care for their needs, not assist a harmful lifestyle," Sandmann said in her reply.
Johnson said Sandmann’s response surprised him.
"I had no idea that we as gay people were harmful," Johnson said. As a result, Johnson said he has filed complaints with the Texas Association of Realtors and the Dallas Fair Housing Office, although the filing of those complaints could not be verified by press time.
In a comment sent by e-mail, Lynne Gorman, team leader at Keller Williams Dallas City Center, said: "The response to Mr. Johnson’s marketing e-mail blast from Mrs. Sandmann was her personal opinion, and is not the opinion or views of the family of agents and the leadership at Keller Williams Dallas City Center. We are very proud of the diversity of our market center, and we regret that Mr. Johnson took offense."
Sandmann hung up on the reporter who contacted her for comments on this story.
Johnson, however, said he talked to Sandmann on Tuesday, May 6. He said Sandmann called him to say the whole thing was a misunderstanding and that she has to protect her clients.
Berger said Sandmann violated no rules with her e-mail.
"Realtors are allowed to discriminate based on sexual orientation," he said. "There is no rule saying they can and there is no rule saying they can’t."
According to article 10 in the National Association of Realtors Code of Ethics and Standards of Practice, Realtors can’t deny equal professional services or discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin. That’s not good enough for Berger and the NAGLREP.
"We feel this rule must be changed," Berger said. "We’re working very firmly on NAR in this effort."
He said his organization is reaching out to policymakers in the National Association of Realtors to get gays and lesbians included in the protections.
Article 10 of the code of ethics prevents Realtors from volunteering information to buyers regarding the racial, religious or ethnic composition of any neighborhood. But one upside for gay buyers is that realtors can tell them where the gay area is.
If sexual orientation became a protected class under the NAR rules, Berger said it isn’t only LGBT clients that would benefit.
"From time to time realtors are discriminated against by other realtors for advertising in GLBT publications or being openly gay and lesbian," Berger said.
None of the local LGBT realtors questioned said they had ever faced such problems.
"I’ve never encountered it in my 25 years of business," said Lory Masters of Master Realtors in Dallas.
Still, Masters said she would like see the NAR code of ethics revised to include sexual orientation as a protected class. She would also like to see federal laws be more accommodating to LGBT citizens.
When told about the e-mail to Johnson, many of the realtors consulted said they were sympathetic to his situation.
"It’s been seen before and it’s not a nice thing to do," Johnson said. "It’s very disturbing when it happens."
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition May 9, 2008.