Are real estate disclosures finally getting out of hand?
I’ve been thinking about that question a lot lately, after I heard about a Realtor who was threatened with a lawsuit for failing to tell his buyers that an Islamic mosque was located around the corner from the home that the buyers already had agreed to purchase.
I’m just a rookie real estate agent. The National Association of Realtors recently announced they signed up their one-millionth member, which means that there are probably at least 999,999 people out there who are a lot smarter than me when it comes to disclosure requirements.
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I also realize that Muslims aren’t exactly the most popular people in the U.S. right now, in the wake of Sept. 11 and our own nation’s subsequent invasion of Iraq.
But really, should sellers and Realtors be sued for failing to disclose that a place of worship–whether it’s an Islamic mosque, a Catholic church, or a Jewish synagogue–is around the corner from a home that a buyer wants to purchase?
More importantly, should the home buyer really care?
If the presence of a mosque becomes legal ground for a buyer to sue, I can only imagine what might happen next. A buyer who’s a neo-Nazi might then be able to sue the Realtor and the seller after finding that a Jewish temple was nearby; Jews themselves could file suit to dissolve a purchase upon discovery that a Palestinian place of worship was close to their new home, and vice versa.
Maybe you think such conjecture is ridiculous, but stranger things have happened.
I ventured onto the Internet to study the history of disclosure laws. Today’s conundrum about whether to disclose the presence of a mosque that serves people that most Americans know very little about (Muslims), but nonetheless despise, is strikingly familiar to the disclosure issues that arose more than 20 years ago over another group of persons who most Americans didn’t know well but hated anyway–people who had AIDS.
It’s important to note that in the early 1980s, even doctors and scientists–much less home sellers and real estate agents–didn’t know very much about how acquired immune deficiency syndrome was spread, much less how to treat it.
Even some of the nation’s most respected medical professionals initially suggested that the virus could live in a home’s air for days, or easily could be “caught” by sitting on a toilet seat previously occupied by an AIDS sufferer or by simply touching a countertop where the victim had sneezed.
Almost 25 years later, we know that those fears were unfounded. But based on what many doctors and scientists were saying in the early ’80s, some real estate agents–in part, because they feared getting slapped with future lawsuits from buyers–began to disclose whether the seller they represented had AIDS.
Such disclosures protected many agents from buyer lawsuits. But soon, some of those same agents were threatened with lawsuits from sellers on grounds ranging from privacy invasion to violation of Civil Rights laws.
In short, everyone–Realtors, buyers and AIDS-stricken sellers–found themselves caught between the “rock” of disclosure laws and the “hard place” of the medical knowledge (or lack thereof) that existed at the time.
The California Legislature took the first step in solving what was then a growing national real estate problem in the ’80s by eventually passing a law that said privacy rights trumped realty disclosure laws.
The new law said Realtors weren’t obligated to disclose that a seller had AIDS, and it was quickly adopted by several other states. The problem was solved.
So today, do we need our government to step in again and write another law that specifically exempts Realtors from disclosing to their potential buyers that a holy mosque of Muslims–followers of a religion that represents about half of the world’s people, but (like gays) represent only about 10 percent of the U.S. population–is within a few blocks from the buyer’s home?
Personally, I don’t think that such a disclosure is needed. The overwhelming majority of Muslims are law-abiding citizens, and were as appalled by the attacks of Osama Bin Laden’s handpicked band of lunatics as you and I.
I’m certain that some people hate Muslims, and wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood where there’s a mosque.
But then again, there are other people who hate blacks, Mexicans, Catholics or Jews. Yet, it would be downright unethical (and quite possibly illegal) for a Realtor to mention in a sale contract that, “Buyer is aware that there is a black family on the block,” or that “Buyer is informed that a Jewish synagogue is within 100 yards of the property.”
Muslims and their places of worship shouldn’t be treated any differently. We don’t need another law or new disclosure requirement here, but we sure could use a turban-sized heap of understanding.
Got tips, ideas or advice for the Rookie Realtor? Send them to Rookie@inman.com.