The National Association of Realtors would like all real estate licensees — not just their 1.5 million members — to be required to complete fair housing training in order to obtain and renew their licenses.
At the trade group’s midyear conference, the Realtors Legislative Meetings, earlier this month, NAR’s board of directors overwhelmingly approved several policies that touched on fair housing. Association committees also referred some to workgroups for further consideration. Here’s a rundown:
Education for all licensees
The board approved a policy put forward by NAR’s State and Local Issues Policy Committee declaring that the trade group would urge its state associations to promote legislation or regulations that would require “[a] concrete minimum number of hours” of fair housing education to both obtain and renew a real estate license.
“[NAR] recognizes that fair housing training is essential for real estate licensees to provide equal professional service to the public,” the committee said when submitting the policy proposal to the board.
“Yet there is wide variability among the states regarding fair housing training requirements for real estate licensure. Many states require no fair housing training to obtain or renew a real estate license.
“In keeping with its commitment to consumer protection and professionalism in the industry, NAR believes that states should require all real estate licensees to engage in regular fair housing training.”
According to NAR’s research, only half of states currently require a minimum dedicated number of fair housing training hours to obtain a real estate license and only a third of states require such hours to renew a real estate license. The association is not advocating for a particular minimum number of hours.
“States that do have fair housing training requirement for licensure range from 1-4 hours,” NAR spokesperson Patrick Newton told Inman via email on Thursday. “NAR’s state associations can determine what number of hours best serves licensees in their state. The main point is a minimum number of required hours helps ensure more substantive training on fair housing.”
The policy said the trade group would also push for “[d]efined fair housing education requirements for all licensees, with no exemptions” as well as approval provisions and regular audits of courses and instructors that would ensure the quality of both. By specifying that the fair housing training should be “defined,” the trade group is hoping to ensure that it will be specifically dedicated to the topic, according to Newton.
“Currently, many states include fair housing education under a general real estate law course,” he said. “In this case, when we advocate a ‘defined’ requirement we mean there should be a specific time commitment to fair housing; absent such a defined requirement, there’s no guarantee that fair housing will be covered in any depth. A defined requirement provides greater assurance the training will be substantive. We trust these matters will be further negotiated by states.”
Also in the new policy, NAR said state associations should support allowing commercial real estate licensees to satisfy the education requirements with non-discrimination training.
“Many commercial real estate licensees stress that they do not participate in the sale or rental of housing, but believe there should be training requirements that ensure non-discrimination in commercial transactions,” Newton said. “State associations can explore the most practical way to ensure the strongest possible legislation and regulations in this respect.”
The full policy text can be found here. Now that the policy has been adopted, Newton said that because NAR does not advocate on state policy, it would be up to state associations to lobby for strengthening their state’s laws.
“NAR has publicized this policy recommendation to its state associations and will further aid in analysis of laws comparing state practices as legislative solutions are implemented,” Newton said.
No NAR fair housing training requirement
NAR itself does not currently require any fair housing training and that did not change at this conference, though it could have. In March, the trade group’s Fair Housing Policy Committee sent a recommendation that NAR should require regular fair housing training as a condition of NAR membership to the Membership Policy and Board Jurisdiction Committee, which oversees NAR membership requirements.
While the membership committee considered that recommendation at the midyear conference, it ultimately decided to appoint a workgroup “for further consideration.”
Currently, the only training NAR requires of its members is a 2.5-hour Realtor Code of Ethics training every three years. NAR debuted its new implicit bias certificate course at the conference, on top of its Fairhaven fair housing training launched in 2020. Both are voluntary and only about 34,000 of NAR’s 1.5 million members have completed Fairhaven.
‘Heirs’ property’ reforms
“Heirs’ property” refers to real estate passed from generation to generation without a will or other legal document proving ownership and is a leading source of land loss for African Americans. At its board meeting, NAR approved a policy to urge its state associations to support reforms to state real estate inheritance law to provide due process protections for owners of heirs’ property. The trade group specifically singled out the Uniform Partition of Heirs’ Property Act (UPHPA) for support.
“[NAR] recognizes that property owners who inherit real property intestate as tenants-in-common are vulnerable to forced sale and eviction,” the State and Local Issues Policy Committee said. “Under the default common law, tenants-in-common may face a court-ordered partition sale by public auction if a single co-tenant demands it.”
According to the committee, a bipartisan group of experts appointed by state governments to the Uniform Law Commission developed the UPHPA, which provides due process protections such as notice, appraisal, right of first refusal, and a court-supervised “commercially reasonable sale by a real estate broker” if other co-tenants choose not to exercise their right and a sale is required. These protections “ensure all parties receive their fair share of the proceeds,” the committee added.
As with the fair housing education policy, it will be up to state associations to push for heirs’ property reforms to their state’s laws, according to Newton.
“NAR has publicized this policy recommendation to its state associations and already worked with several state associations by connecting them with information on the UPHPA,” he said.
“NAR’s formal policy serves our interest in protecting property rights and ensuring due process protections are in place to protect property owners from generation to generation.”
Enforcement of fair lending
NAR’s board also approved a recommendation from the Fair Housing Policy Committee that the trade group “support the strong and fair enforcement of the fair lending provisions of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act.”
“A clear statement in support of fair lending will position [NAR] to engage with Congress and federal agencies as they seek to implement new policies and enforce existing laws intended to eliminate discrimination in mortgage lending,” the committee told NAR’s board.
“This policy statement serves as a guide for NAR to advocate for federal fair lending policy that furthers the Realtor Code of Ethics’ consumer protections against unlawful discrimination. These protections support housing opportunities, economic growth, community development, and a healthy and vibrant real estate market.”
While NAR has generally supported equal opportunity in real estate financing for decades, “[t]his more explicit policy goes farther in stressing the importance of the strong enforcement of specific laws in promoting homeownership and closing homeownership gaps,” Newton said.
The policy emphasizes better enforcement of the Fair Housing Act and the Equal Credit Opportunity Act specifically when it comes to fair lending.
“We believe the text of these laws are strong, as written,” Newton said. “In general, we have supported stronger enforcement of the Fair Housing Act; this stresses the fair lending provisions of the Act and ECOA, as well.”
Asked whether NAR would push for particular policy changes in regards to this enforcement, Newton said NAR supports strong enforcement of the Fair Housing Act at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, “including more funding for HUD and the private fair housing organizations that assist with such enforcement.”
He also pointed out that NAR has supported a bill from Representative Al Green of Texas, called the Fair Lending for All Act, which called for strengthening ECOA enforcement at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
“We have also weighed in on the FHFA’s equity plans that include fair lending enforcement,” Newton said. “We will continue to engage in these and other ways.”
Special Purpose Credit Programs
At the Fair Housing Policy Committee’s meeting at the conference, Allen Okamoto, a NAR director and broker-owner of a San Francisco-based brokerage, introduced a policy passed by the California Association of Realtors at its Spring 2022 Business Meetings. The policy called for both NAR and C.A.R. to support “Special Purpose Credit Programs by private entities that provide homeownership opportunities to communities that have historically been discriminated against.”
SPCPs are credit assistance programs for the benefit of an economically disadvantaged class of persons, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
The committee referred the policy “for further deliberation” to a workgroup comprised of members of the Fair Housing Policy Committee, the Conventional Financing & Policy Committee, and the Federal Financing & Housing Policy Committee.