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Can you advertise property these days without embroiling yourself in a dispute over the legal tenor of your ad copy? No doubt that question is on your mind as you read accounts of stringent enforcement of the federal Fair Housing Act with respect to real estate ads.
Complaints filed by housing advocates, such as member agencies of the National Fair Housing Alliance, are on the rise. As a result, many newspapers reject ads that contain words. or phrases that could be perceived to discriminate against or exclude a particular group.
"Practitioners are concerned that the everyday marketing terms they've always used are suddenly unacceptable and that they run the risk of getting sued," says George Naylor, a broker with Brenner Realty in Warminster, Pa., who heads the Equal Opportunity Committee at the Bucks County Board. However, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) last January provided some welcome relief for practitioners by clarifying the acceptability of some everyday terms that have lately caused some confusion. (For examples of words and phrases that don't violate Fair Housing Act protocol, see "How to Write a Nondiscriminatory Ad, by HUD,".)
Although such concerns are understandable, they may be based more on perception than reality, according to fair housing experts in the industry, in government, and at newspapers. "The attention being given lately to this issue has created a mild panic among practitioners, who worry that they'll be attacked for accidentally using the wrong word," says Fred Underwood, vice president of equal opportunity at the National Association of realtors[R]. "But for the most part, fair housing enforcement is reasonable--and it's going after actual discrimination in ads rather than the misuse of certain words."
Brenda Russell, a fair housing instructor and broker th Crye-Leike, Inc., in Memphis, Tenn., shares that …