Realtors can no longer publicly use discriminatory language without consequence.
The National Association of Realtors’s board of directors voted Friday to officially expand its Code of Ethics to cover realtors’ conduct outside of their real estate duties. Previously, the code of ethics only applied to a realtors’ conduct in the course of a real estate transaction.
That means any NAR member who uses hate speech or harassing language in public, whether as a part of their personal or professional business, could be expelled from the organization.
Amending the organization’s ethics rules became an issue NAR’s standards committee began to consider earlier this year, after the organization began receiving complaints about its members using discriminatory speech online, particularly on social media.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, NAR’s leadership acknowledged the expansion of its code of ethics had generated controversy among its 1.4 million members by creating a video explaining what was motivating the change.
In the video, posted last month, Matt Difanis, who leads the standards committee, read out several examples of hate speech that members posted on social media this year. (He noted that these were just a couple from the “mountain of hate speech” complaints NAR had received.)
Under NAR’s previous ethics guidelines, Difanis explained, it was “OK to say vile, abhorrent, disgusting things and still … wear the Realtor badge.”
As of Friday, that’s no longer the case.
Vince Malta, NAR’s president and a San Francisco-based broker, applauded the board’s decision.
“Combating and overcoming bigotry and injustice starts with each of us,” Malta said in a statement. “Realtors today took tangible steps to ensure we are held to the highest possible standard while providing a mechanism of enforcement for those who violate our new policies.”
Anyone can file a complaint against a realtor alleging the use of harassing language or hate speech in public. Complaints are considered on a case-by-cases by the local realtor association in which the agent is a member, according to NAR.
Consequences for members found in violation of the code of ethics vary from fines to requirements to attend educational courses. In the most severe cases, a realtor’s membership can be suspended or revoked.
In response to critics who may claim the new rules infringe on free speech, Malta said, “the First Amendment does not preclude NAR from imposing this ethical duty as a condition of membership.”
The effort to expand NAR’s code of ethics began after a June meeting in which Black realtors shared their experiences of racism on the job with their colleagues, according to Difanis’ video.
And, as he noted, real estate agents have been deeply involved in upholding racial discrimination for decades.
“Colleagues, remember, we quite literally drew the color lines,” Defanis said. “Our fingerprints as realtors are all over the redlining maps.”
A Newsday investigation last year found widespread racial discrimination by real estate agents on Long Island in New York. Brokers denied the findings in a state hearing earlier this fall, for which senators had to issue subpoenas in order to have the implicated agents participate.