Can I provide neighborhood demographic information to a buyer client?

QUESTION: I have a buyer client from out of town who has asked me about neighborhood demographics in the areas where he is looking at homes. I know that there are limits on what I can tell him. What are the rules?

ANSWER: The federal Fair Housing Act and North Carolina’s State Fair Housing Act both prohibit discrimination against an individual based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap or familial status in the sale, rental or advertising of residential property. Any violation of fair housing laws by a real estate agent is also a violation of the Real Estate License Law.

In its Real Estate Manual, in a section entitled “Discrimination in Advertising.” the North Carolina Real Estate Commission has written that, in addition to their advertising, agents must be mindful of their oral comments or statements, and that “any reference to a particular race, religion, national origin or other protected class clearly violates fair housing laws, whether the words or phrases appear in print or whether they are uttered in person.” On its website, the Commission has a link to a Question and Answer brochure on Fair Housing. One of the questions in that brochure is “Can a real estate agent answer questions about the characteristics of a neighborhood if the questions concern one of the protected categories?” The answer given in the brochure is “no.”

In addition to federal and state law, REALTORS® are bound by the REALTOR® Code of Ethics. Article 10 of the Code prohibits REALTORS® from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Standard of Practice 10-1 states: “When involved in the sale or lease of a residence, REALTORS® shall not volunteer information regarding the racial, religious or ethnic composition of any neighborhood.”

The bottom line is that to avoid violating federal and state law, REALTORS® should not provide demographic information concerning any protected class if they are involved in the sale or lease of residential property. This rule does not apply to commercial transactions. If asked for demographic information by a residential client, you should advise your client that, because of fair housing laws, you are not permitted to provide information regarding any of the protected classes, and that if they wish to have that information, they will have to obtain it from some other source.

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