Connect with us

Real Estate Associations

REALTOR® running for local Board of Directors criticized for racist social media posts; where’s the line?

What is acceptable for a real estate professional to say in public, what’s legal, and when does it even matter? We enjoy free speech, but it only extends so far.

Published

on

realtor promotes confederate flag

In the real estate industry, there is a lot of grey area when licensees express themselves. Governed by Fair Housing Laws, local and state laws, and ruled by the Code of Ethics (and soon, the Code of Excellence), REALTORS® are looked to for professionalism, but are also given specific freedoms under the First Amendment.

That brings us to the recent case of an agent expressing his views on illegal immigration while running for a Board position at his Realtor Association of Prince William (PWAR).

Cockroaches and the Confederate flag

Akbar Siddique of City Homes Real Estate in Manassas, Virginia set up a fake Facebook profile years ago under the name “Rony Humble,” sharing hundreds of links and pictures espousing negativity toward “illegals,” calling them “cockroaches,” and repeatedly urging that the borders be closed. For some time, his profile picture was a Confederate flag, and there was a peppering of posts about City Homes and listings.

Click to enlarge:

akbar-siddique-1

akbar-siddique-2

Although the profile was years old, it caught several people’s attention recently, who felt that the posts constituted hate speech and made for a deplorable representation of the membership (which is the job of a Board member). Controversy brewed. Some supported his free speech, others had no problem with his posts, while others felt it misrepresented the profession.

Siddique is now bowing out of the race and will not appear on the ballot. His profile has since been scrubbed of most of the offensive content and the name has changed to “Akbar S Rony.” He has failed to respond to requests for comment, so we have no explanation or denial from Siddique.

PWAR responds to the issue

April D. McMillan, Chief Executive Officer at PWAR tells The Real Daily, “The comments on this person’s personal profile page in no way reflect the views or position of PWAR, or of our state organization, Virginia Association of REALTORS®, or the National Association of REALTORS®. Licensed REALTOR® members of the real estate industry adhere to a high professional standard as established by the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics, which has existed for 100 years.”

Further, McMillan notes, “Article 10, in particular, deals with a REALTOR®’s duties to the public, stating that REALTORS® shall not discriminate against any person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity. This Code of Ethics is what distinguishes a licensed REALTOR® from a non-licensee. Our organization also has an official grievance and adjudication process in place.”

PWAR does not have plans on adding any diversity courses or addressing this specific instance directly, but offers bi-monthly Fair Housing courses for their members.

Others use this same speech online

This case is not exactly unique, you’ve probably seen people in the industry posting questionable material in public. For example, Brenda Free, AE at Scioto Valley Association of REALTORS® posted these, also with a Confederate flag profile picture; are these acceptable?

Click to enlarge.
postings

The real question: what is okay, what is not?

We all enjoy free speech under the First Amendment, but as real estate professionals, what is done in public comes with rules. Had this fake profile been completely private and locked down, would it have been acceptable? Had this agent not been running for a Board position, would anyone care? Are statements perceived as racist not acceptable while silly posts like “Teacher: What comes after 69? Student: Mouthwash. Teacher: Get out.” (that remain on the scrubbed account) are okay?

Further, is hate speech a violation of the strict Fair Housing laws? Our sources at HUD say Siddique’s posts are questionable, and the postings are not necessarily illegal from a real estate professional, but if someone was discriminated against by this agent at any time, they’d have quite a bit of ammunition to present to a court and would “likely lose even the weakest of cases against him.”

Aside from Fair Housing, should this type of discriminatory public speech be allowed under Article 10 of the Code of Ethics? Does it rise to the level of professionalism this industry has worked so hard to accomplish as a mechanism to establish trust with consumers? Will the pending Code of Excellence obliterate this type of behavior?

It is questionable whether or not this type of speech is legal, but the consensus appears to be that it is unquestionably unprofessional and fails to rise to the industry’s standards, thereby hurting the relationship between real estate professionals and consumer, which has a ripple effect. It is our hope that Associations use this as an opportunity to rally members in solidarity and educate on what is and is not acceptable, in a truly meaningful way.

There is a real grey area here that as an industry, we must consider and examine. Tell us in the comments your thoughts; we’re interested, and we are listening.

#RonyHumble

Lani is the Chief Operating Officer at The Real Daily and sister news outlet, The American Genius, and has been named in the Inman 100 Most Influential Real Estate Leaders several times, co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH and Austin Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

Real Estate Associations

NAR updates code of ethics – here’s why it matters

(REAL ESTATE ASSOCIATION) The NAR amended their code of ethics to cover hate speech online – a decision for which we’ve been waiting for years.

Published

on

A welcome sign inside of a home that cannot be removed thanks to updated code of ethics

The National Association of Realtors voted to amend their realtor code of ethics in November 2020, leading to a crucial addition that will change the way realtors approach off-duty interactions and behavior—for the better.

This motion passed on the heels of several reports regarding disturbing speech and actions from realtors. While the comments in question were allegedly restricted to social media, some other members of the NAR went so far as to do things like remove property (e.g., Black Lives Matter signs) from neighbors’ yards. This clearly constitutes an ethical violation, but the line isn’t always so clear-cut—hence the updated code of ethics.

According to the revised code, any kind of hate speech or dissenting behavior toward protected classes from realtors will constitute a violation; this includes comments or harassment based on race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, religion, age, and much more. Should a realtor be found guilty of making such comments, they could face severe penalties.

Changing the code of ethics to reflect common decency is a part of this decision, but it isn’t the most important component. By adopting and enforcing these changes, the NAR gets one step closer to fair housing for all—something that many realtors consider to be of paramount value.

“[Fair housing] is something near and dear to my heart, and most Realtors’ hearts,” says Jennifer Stevenson, president of the New York State Association of Realtors and board member for the NAR.

Some may view this addition as meddlesome—after all, what one says in their private life and on social media has a certain impervious air to it. But the fact remains that realtors really are public servants; by that logic, they should be held accountable for their words whether they are on-duty or off—just like all other public servants.

Furthermore, realtors represent real estate as a whole; the institution itself deserves to be able to eradicate the member status of anyone who violates the ethics held by that institution. It’s a simple concept: Society is—or should be—moving towards greater acceptance and support of protected classes, and that support includes fair housing. Anyone who isn’t on board with that, even if it’s “just in their personal life”, should jump ship now.

Continue Reading

Real Estate Associations

NAR and AARP partner to create livability index for house hunting

(REAL ESTATE ASSOCATIONS) The National Association of Realtors® and AARP integrated the AARP Livability Index scores across the Realtors Property Resource® platform.

Published

on

A neighborhood with close-together houses, with different livability factors.

When you’re searching for your dream home, there are a lot of things to consider besides what you can afford from a financial standpoint. Factors such as being able to have a short commute to work, living in an area with a good school district, or being close to nearby entertainment and restaurants are all things you might take a look at. These are all considered livability factors — the measure of how various community characteristics play into where you choose to live.

Having access to all this information can be difficult to come by, especially if you live out of state and aren’t familiar with the area. The information you do have access to is what is available in the home listing and answers you get from your realtor or seller, but not much else.

So, where can you go to get that information? Well, the National Association of Realtors® and AARP are making it less of a hassle to acquire that information. In a joint effort, the two are integrating the AARP Livability Index scores across the Realtors Property Resource® platform.

“One of AARP’s goals through this collaboration with NAR is to help people better understand their housing needs over their lifetime and address the barriers that prevent people from living in their desired communities as they age,” said Rodney Harrell, VP of Family, Home & Community at AARP. “We are thrilled about the AARP Livability Index integration as it will provide homebuyers and other movers with the necessary information to make informed choices that meet their needs for today and into the future.”

To assist and give property buyers a chance to make “age-friendly decisions and purchases for the home”, the Index will offer insights on community factors. The tool will access these 7 categories of livability:

  • Housing (affordability and access)
  • Neighborhood (access to life, work, and play)
  • Transportation (safe and convenient options)
  • Environment (clean air and water)
  • Health (prevention, access and quality)
  • Engagement (civic and social involvement)
  • Opportunity (inclusion and possibilities)

The tool will score each neighborhood between 0 to 100, with an average score being 50. Communities with more diverse features that appeal to all ages, incomes, and abilities will score higher than those that are not.

Although a total livability score is based on the average of all 7 category scores, the Index lets you customize your score based on your personal preferences. If transportation is more important to you than housing or the environment, the tool will take into account what you set as most important.

The AARP Livability Index will give Realtors® access to “robust national data” that can be broken down by address, ZIP Code, city, or county to share with buyers. This data will have information on updated metrics and policies. You’ll also be able to compare up to three community performances side by side and even share a score on social media.

What is considered “livable” is different for each person. It can be that affordable home right in the middle of town or that spacious house removed from the bustling city. Whatever your form of livability is, the AARP Livability Index score aims to help you find the right home in just the right community.

Continue Reading

Real Estate Associations

NAR supports economic inclusion for equal housing opportunities

(REAL ESTATE ASSOCIATIONS) The NAR is pushing to insure anyone who wants a home can get one through a combination of economic inclusion, and eliminating implicit bias.

Published

on

economic inclusion

The National Association of Realtors® is working with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Equality of Opportunity that addresses accessibility to housing based on economic inclusion. NAR CEO Bob Goldberg said,

“We believe that building a better future in America begins with equal access to housing and opportunity. With ongoing residential segregation contributing to many problems in our society, NAR recognizes that this nation cannot achieve true economic equality without first achieving true equality in housing. Our commitment to this cause and to Fair Housing has only strengthened in response to recent tragedies in America.”

What is economic inclusion?

According to the FDIC, economic inclusion describes the efforts to bring underserved communities into the financial mainstream. This could include things like making sure consumers have access to bank accounts and financial services; protections against discriminatory lending practices; and other types of consumer protections. Although the FDIC’s efforts seem to focus on unbanked and underbanked consumers, economic inclusion reaches around to all financial transactions, including housing.

Research from the Brookings Institution cites barriers to economic inclusion as slowing economic growth in local communities. Giving underserved communities access to financial products and opportunities actually spurs the local economy. The government bears the weight of services for the underserved. For example, childhood poverty costs the U.S. economy about 4% of the GDP annually. Nationwide, that is about $500 billion a year. Economic inclusion gives people a way out. It’s not a hand-out, but education and opportunities to change the future.

The NAR is making real change for the underserved

Last week, it was announced that the NAR introduced tools that would reduce implicit bias. Goldberg said, “NAR has spent recent years reexamining how our 1.4 million members can best lead the fight against discrimination, bigotry, and injustice.” The NAR isn’t just talking about it. They’re putting their money behind inclusion, and preventing unfair housing practices. These kind of changes matter for everyone.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Our Partners

Get The Daily Intel
in your inbox

Subscribe and get news and EXCLUSIVE content to your email inbox!

Still Trending

Get The American Genius
in your inbox

subscribe and get news and exclusive content to your email inbox