Realtor Code of Ethics once required discrimination

Today's endorsements of homophobic candidates are reminiscent of past wrongs

This post was originally published by Bob McCranie on ActiveRain. Follow him on Twitter: @bobmccranie.

I’ve been doing research on the code of ethics as it applies to fair housing and the new “religious freedom” laws. I still have a lot to learn, but I found some very interesting details about segregation.

Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C., Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, Washington, D.C., Steve Heap / Shutterstock.com

In the late 1910s, protective covenants became popular as a way of protecting white neighborhoods. The states were barred from setting specific racial boundaries, but private citizens could.

The Supreme Court case Corrigan v. Buckley resulted from a 1921 agreement between 30 white persons who owned 25 parcels of land. These individuals agreed that no part of any of these properties would be sold, leased or given to anyone of African-American descent. The court upheld the rights of property owners to protect their land from being sold to non-whites.

It’s interesting to see that the code of ethics went even farther. Even if the land was not protected, Realtors could not sell property to those whose presence was detrimental.

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From 1924 to 1950, Article 34 of the Realtor Code of Ethics read:

A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood ... members of any race or nationality ... whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood."

“A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or occupancy, members of any race or nationality, or any individuals whose presence will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

Here’s an example of protective covenants imposed by a developer of a community in Seattle, Wash.:”16. RACIAL RESTRICTIONS:  No property in said Addition shall at any time be sold, conveyed, rented or leased in whole or in part to any person or persons not of the White or Caucasian race. No person other than one of the White or Caucasian race shall be permitted to occupy any property in said Addition or portion thereof or building thereon except a domestic servant actually employed by a person of the White or Caucasian race where the latter is an occupant of such property.”

In 1950, due to the Supreme Court decision in Shelley v. Kraemer, which struck down protective covenants like the one above, the Realtor Code of Ethics was amended as follows:

“A Realtor should never be instrumental in introducing into a neighborhood a character of property or use which will clearly be detrimental to property values in that neighborhood.”

In 1955, “Article 34″ was renumbered “Article 5.” But the language remained essentially the same.

While they took out race and national descent, the meaning was still clear. Fair housing was not our aim. Realtors who actually disagreed could be fined or removed from the local board due to selling a property to the wrong person. Can you imagine someone trying this today?

In 1963, the California Legislature passed the Rumford Fair Housing Act, which outlawed restrictive covenants and the refusal to rent or sell property on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, marital status or physical disability.

In reaction to the law, a well-funded coalition of Realtors and landlords was determined to protect white neighborhoods and property values. They immediately began to campaign for a referendum that would amend the state constitution to protect property owners’ ability to deny minorities equal access to housing. Known as Prop. 14, it was passed by 65 percent of the voters. (See more.)

In 1968, the U.S. government passed the federal Fair Housing Act, which has been amended over time to be the great instrument of equality we know today.

(This sounds very familiar. As California passed gay marriage, Prop 8 was voted in taking it away by popular election, and now the Supreme Court has set that proposition aside.)

I also discovered a separate organization for African-American agents. The National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) was formed on July 29, 1947, making it the oldest minority trade association in America. NAREB was established by African-American real estate professionals as an alternative for African-Americans who were excluded from the National Association of Realtors.

So as I look at the struggle we are having now to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) clients and Realtors by trying to stem the tide of endorsements of homophobic candidates by the Realtors Political Action Committee (RPAC) and the Texas Association of Realtors Political Action Committee (TREPAC), I have to realize that change takes time. It takes advocates and it takes dedication. And that the steps being taken to stop change have been tried before, and they have failed.


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