Posted on: July 1st, 2021

Ethics of ‘Love Letters’: More Harmful than Harmless?

The US Fair Housing Act, Title 42 of the U.S. Code, was originally enacted in 1968, with major amendments in 1988 and 1995. The purpose of the Act is to prevent discrimination in the sale or rental of housing. Violation of the act can lead to litigation as well as sanctions, including fines and penalties to any real estate professional found guilty of such discrimination.

The Act protects potential buyers or renters from discrimination in the housing market based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. It is a violation of the act to refuse to sell or rent to any buyer or renter, following a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate in good faith, withdraw property or otherwise make dwellings unavailable to any person based on these considerations.

It is meant to level the playing field for all persons seeking to purchase or rent housing at all price points. Sellers are meant to make legitimate decisions on whether to accept an offer based on price, concessions, closing dates, contingencies, and overall strength of offer. They are not meant to accept an offer on the basis of the conditions identified in the Act.

It is because of the Act that “Love Letters” to Sellers, which in the past may have been viewed as harmless and a personal touch, are now discouraged, and in fact seen as a violation of Fair Housing. Because these letters often speak to family situations, nationality, religious beliefs and/or other factors that may give rise to discriminatory behavior, it is now considered best practice for real estate professionals to steer clear of such letters.

A realtor should not write, edit, deliver, or even read such letters from buyers. Sellers, too, should be discouraged from reading any such letters. A situation can easily escalate from an unhappy buyer whose offer was not accepted, to a claim for discrimination against the seller and other real estate professionals involved in a transaction.

The Fair Housing Act provides for anyone to have a level playing field when seeking housing. Offers are best made and accepted with legitimate criteria, with the strength of the offer given the parties’ respective needs, being the consideration to move forward. In this incredibly fast-paced, competitive housing market, fair housing concerns are more important than ever, some 50+ years after their initial enactment.