After Attorney General Maura Healey’s office announced $110,000 in fines and mandatory training for three South Shore real estate agents and one brokerage accused of violating fair housing laws, the Massachusetts Association of Realtors is launching a training series for members on the ins and outs of fair housing law.
MAR is partnering with Suffolk Law School’s Housing Discrimination Testing Program to run the trainings starting next week. The testing program’s tip to Healey’s office initiated the investigations.
“The Massachusetts Association of Realtors advocates for equal opportunity and housing for all persons. MAR actively champions for the right to own, use and transfer private property and is committed to educating Realtors and brokers on fair housing, as well as offering equal professional service to all in their search for property,” MAR 2020 President Kurt Thompson, a team leader at Keller Williams Realty North Central in Leominster, said in a statement.
Healey’s office claimed a real estate agent managing rentals at Braintree-based Free & Clear Realty cut off contact with a prospective renter after she disclosed their intent to use a Section 8 voucher. Her office also accused a Realtor at Quincy-based Century 21 Annex with raising the rent on a unit after an applicant disclosed her intent to use a Section 8 voucher, with the intent of putting the unit out of her reach. Healey’s office also accused an agent at the Brookline office of Unlimited Sotheby’s International Realty of telling a prospective tenant with a Section 8 voucher that the landlord had chosen another applicant, when in fact the unit was kept on the market for several weeks afterward.
“Unlimited Sotheby’s International Realty and its agents denounce discrimination of any kind and are committed to providing professional services to all individuals regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation,” the brokerage said in a statement to Banker & Tradesman. “We consistently offer training on fair housing laws and have a compliance program in place which was recognized by the attorney general’s office. The company was not alleged to have engaged in any form of discrimination. The allegations were made against an agent who worked for the company. The agent vehemently denied the allegations but entered into a settlement agreement with the attorney general’s office. That agent is not currently active with the company.”
Century 21 Annex did not return an emailed request for comment. Banker & Tradesman was unable to contact Free & Clear Realty.
“South Shore Realtors supports and promotes fair housing and condemns any form of housing discrimination. It is distressing to hear of the AG’s housing discrimination findings but encouraging to learn that the agents listed in the article are willing to be accountable for their actions and take the necessary trainings to prevent any future occurrence,” South Shore Realtors 2020 President Mary D’Ambra said in a statement.
Only Kenneth Huang, the Century 21 agent, is an association member.
Healey’s office also accused Braintree-based Success! Real Estate of publishing ads for apartments and MLS listings for apartments with descriptions that violated fair housing law, like “one person only,” which Healey’s office identified as discriminating against couples and families, or “you must have good credit and decent work history” and “verifiable employment required,” which Healey’s office said discriminates against people who receive public assistance or who may be unable to work.
“I’ve got 175 agents and not one of them gives two cents about the color of someone’s skin,” Success! Broker-Owner Steve Webster said in an interview. “It was really due to a lack of education by some of my agents. They didn’t realize what they were doing.”
Success! has hired a compliance officer to scrutinize the language used in future listings and to boost training for its agents, a somewhat unique step among the area’s brokerages. Webster said the compliance officer has also helped ease the burden on agents of lead paint certification and other administrative work to comply with state regulations.
“Quite frankly, it’s getting really, really difficult to navigate the rental market. [10 Success! agents] have said they’re not going to do rentals anymore because it’s too litigious,” Webster said. “If you’re going to be a rental agent, you’d better damn well know what you’re doing.”
Webster said the tight rental market outside of Boston’s student areas puts significant pressure on agents working rentals to treat all prospective renters fairly.
“There’s plenty of room to make mistakes and the only way we can combat that is education, education, education,” he said.