Ask an Agent: What is the Deal With Fair Housing Laws?

by Mark Wellborn

In this week's installment of Ask An Agent, a reader wonders why real estate agents cannot answer basic questions about neighborhood crime levels and schools. W.C. & A.N. Miler's Pamela Wye offers up some insight. Question: A friend recently told me that her real estate agent was not allowed to describe the neighborhoods where she was interested in buying and the types of people that tend to live in them because of "fair housing" laws. What are these laws and why do they prevent agents from answering these basic questions? Answer: Your agent was correct in telling you that she cannot answer these types of questions. Questions like "Will I find other young, single professionals in this neighborhood?" or "Does this neighborhood have a crime problem?" make real estate agents cringe. While these inquiries seem fairly innocent and obvious, real estate agents are barred from responding as it would be in violation of The Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act was passed in the late 1960s to prevent discrimination in real estate based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, handicap and familiar status. The goal of the law was to give Americans equal access to the housing of their choice and to prevent "steering", which is when real estate agents guide their buyers toward or away from certain properties and neighborhoods based on any of the factors mentioned above. While the intention of the law is good, the tight-lipped policy can often leave buyers frustrated and wondering why the person working for them will not answer basic questions about buildings and neighborhoods. As there is no way around this, buyers should do all the neighborhood research they can on their own before purchasing in a certain area. There are a variety of new tools and sites on the internet that make this process easy. If you would like to submit a question for Ask An Agent, send an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

See other articles related to: pamela wye, fair housing, ask an agent

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/ask_an_agent_what_is_the_deal_with_fair_housing_laws/1548


  1. OutinShaw said at 10:02 am on Wednesday November 25, 2009:

    Thanks for the info. It seems to me like there should be some sort of middle ground here, as the law is too restrictive. The fact that an agent can’t tell a client that a neighborhood is popular for 20 and 30-somethings is just silly.

  1. usethenet said at 12:21 pm on Wednesday November 25, 2009:

    There are plenty of resources besides your realtor.  There are plenty of neighborhood specific blogs in DC.  The police districts, wards, and many neighborhoods have listservs you can join and review.  Sit in on the ANC and/or police community meetings, which have schedules posted online.  You can also just go hang out in the neighborhood and see for yourself.  Granted, that’s more involved than asking a question.  However, no one knows your comfort level better than you and that’s what this comes down to.

  1. Richko said at 3:12 pm on Wednesday November 25, 2009:

    I know plenty about neighborhoods I would consider living in before I would even look at properties there. But this law evidently applies to individual buildings, too.  A few months ago on a lark I went to check out some units at The Watergate.  Having heard that the building seemed to be inhabited mostly by older folks with even older money, I asked the agent if many young people lived there.  The agent indicated that was an out-of-bounds question.  How is one supposed to research that, short of staking out the place?  (I guess it’s not that big a deal unless you don’t have a life already and are hoping your new neighbors will create one for you.)

  1. name withheld said at 1:20 am on Friday November 27, 2009:

    The law bans REFUSING to sell or show a property based on protected status.  And it bans COERCING, THREATENING, OR INTIMIDATING a buyer.

    But simply answering a question initiated by the buyer is not a violation of FHA laws.  Maybe some agents are acting out of an overabundance of caution, but I think most just don’t want to have to do any legwork to be informed about a property or neighborhood.  The job is just so much easier when you don’t have to know anything other than what is listed on the flier.

  1. anon said at 9:54 am on Saturday November 28, 2009:

    Name Withheld, you’re over simplifying the concept and then arriving at the conclusion that real estate agents are lazy.

    Get your real estate license (assuming you don’t have one) and it will be drilled in to your head that licensed agents should avoid answering these questions at the risk of violating the law and facing stiff consequences.  An agent might answer a question that seems harmless, but in doing so unintentionally violate the law, lose their license, be sued, etc.

    You might think this is an agent being lazy, but really they are just protecting their business.  Errors & Omissions (E&O) insurance does not cover fair housing violation either.

  1. Doug Francis said at 4:47 pm on Friday December 4, 2009:

    After a prospect asked me questions about crime rates around a listing of mine, I thought, why should he trust me? I am trying to get the home sold… and a less ethical person may say anything to get the sale. Who really knows what goes on in any neighborhood? Really, it is beyond the scope of any reasonable person to assume a real estate agent knows crime stats.

    You really need to find the best source possible.

    After that incident (sound like police jargon, no?)I wrote a post with links to Northern Virginia PD’s in case it came up again. And if that doesn’t work for you, meet some of your new neighbors before you make an offer.

Comments are closed.

DC Real Estate Guides

Short guides to navigating the DC-area real estate market

We've collected all our helpful guides for buying, selling and renting in and around Washington, DC in one place. Visit guides.urbanturf.com or start browsing below!

Northern Virginia

Profiles of 14 neighborhoods across Northern Virginia

Looking to Give People A Reason to Stay Past 6pm
Happily Straddling the Line Between City and Suburb
Columbia Pike
Arlington’s Neglected Stepchild is Getting a Makeover
Crystal City
Turning Lemons into Lemonade
Lyon Village
Developing An Air of Exclusivity?
Hitting Its Growth Spurt
An Urban Village Hitting Its Stride
Del Ray
Virginia’s Small Town Near the Big City
Eisenhower Avenue
The Vibrancy Might Take a Few Years
The Quiet Neighborhood By the Beltway
Old Town
Mayberry By The Potomac
132 Commerical-Free Acres
Downtown Falls Church
Staying the Same in the Midst of Change
Tysons Corner
Radical Change Could Be On The Way

See more Northern Virginia »


Profiles of 14 neighborhoods in suburban Maryland

Small-Town Living in the State Capital
Bedroom Community Gets Buzzing Cache
Cabin John
In With The New While Maintaining the Old
Chevy Chase
Affluence, Green Lawns and Pricey Homes
Downtown Silver Spring
Experiencing a Resurgence After a Bumpy History
A Suburb on Steroids
Rockville Town Square
Despite the Dynamism, Still Somewhat Generic
Takoma Park
More Than a Little Bit Quirky
A Foodie Magnet on the Verge of Change
Capitol Heights
Kudzu, Front Porches and Crime
Glass Half Full or Half Empty?
Mount Rainier
Artists, Affordable Homes and A Silo Full of Corn
National Harbor
A Development Rises Next to the Potomac
Riverdale Park
A Town Looking For Its Identity

See more Maryland »

Northwest DC

30+ neighborhood profiles for the city's biggest quadrant

16th Street Heights
DC's Sleeper Neighborhood
Where (Almost) Everyone Knows Your Name
AU Park
One of DC’s Last Frontiers Before the Suburbs
DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp
DC’s 535 House Neighborhood
Cathedral Heights
Do You Know Where That Is?
Chevy Chase DC
Not to Be Confused With the Other Chevy Chase
Cleveland Park
Coming Back After A Rough Year
Columbia Heights
DC’s Most Diverse Neighborhood, But For How Long?
An Island of Serenity East of the Park
Dupont Circle
The Best of DC (For a Price)
Foggy Bottom & West End
Where the Institutional Meets the International
Forest Hills
Ambassadors and Adventurous Architecture
Foxhall Village
350 Homes Just West of Georgetown
Friendship Heights
A Shopping Mecca With a Few Places to Live
History, Hoyas and H&M
Glover Park
One of DC’s Preppier and More Family-Friendly Neighborhoods
A Posh View From Embassy Row
LeDroit Park
A Quiet Enclave in the Middle of the City
Logan Circle
Trendy Now, But Not By Accident
Mount Pleasant
Sought-After Homes Surround Main Street in Transition
Mount Vernon Triangle
From Seedy to Sought-After
The Long, Skinny Neighborhood at the City’s Northwest Edge
Park View
It’s Not Petworth
Penn Quarter/Chinatown
DC’s Go-Go-Go Neighborhood
Getting a Vibrancy of Its Own
The Duke’s Former Stomping Ground
Shepherd Park
DC’s Garden of Diversity
Spring Valley
A Suburb With a DC Zip Code
Not To Be Confused With Takoma Park
Not Quite Like Its Neighbors
U Street Corridor
The Difference a Decade Makes
Woodley Park
Deceptively Residential
Adams Morgan
No Longer DC’s Hippest Neighborhood, But Still Loved by Residents

See more Northwest DC »

Southwest DC

The little quadrant that could

Southwest Waterfront
A Neighborhood Where A Change Is Gonna Come

See more Southwest DC »

Northeast DC

Profiles of 10 neighborhoods in NE

New Development Could Shake Up Pastoral Peace
A Little Bit of Country Just Inside the District’s Borders
Not to Be Confused With Bloomingdale
Fort Totten
Five Years Could Make a Big Difference
H Street
A Place To Party, and To Settle Down
The Northeast Neighborhood That Few Know About
Michigan Park
A Newsletter-On-Your-Doorstep Community
Evolving from a Brand to a Neighborhood
Ripe for Investment Right About Now
The Difference 5 Years Makes
Big Houses, A Dusty Commercial Strip and Potential

See more Northeast DC »

Southeast DC

6 neighborhoods from Capitol Hill to East of the River

Capitol Riverfront
Still Growing
Hill East
Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor
Congress Heights
Gradually Rising
Notable for Its Neighborliness
Historic Anacostia
Future Promise Breeds Cautious Optimism
Eastern Market
A More European Way of Living

See more Southeast DC »

Upcoming Seminars ▾