As an American you have the right to join any organization you want. But when it comes to your work life, you have to know where to draw the line between your beliefs and business practices that could get you into trouble with federal housing authorities as well as make you vulnerable to lawsuits and license removal.
The Christian Real Estate Network and Christian Living Real Estate Network (CLREA) are two referral networks that put Christian buyers and sellers together with Christian real estate professionals. Questions are being raised by authorities that these sites allegedly encourage real estate practitioners to work only with Christian buyers and sellers – a violation of federal housing laws for real estate licensees.
”The one that got me going first was CLREA,” says Bill Thorne, Ethics and Professional Standards Director for the Greater Las Vegas Association of REALTORS (GLVAR,) “It’s interesting from a lot of perspectives.”
According to Thorne, Nevada practitioners have been inundated with e-mails from the CLREA asking local practitioners to join. While members can join of their own free will, Thorne says, he has a problem with CLREA’s caveat - the site wants members to only work with Christian buyers and sellers. If they do, they could open themselves to a world of trouble from federal prosecution, to lawsuits, to license loss.
”If you join them, you are agreeing to help only Christian buyers and sellers, explains Thorne. “Fair housing laws tend to fall to the back of people’s minds, yet it is one of those things that if they screw up innocently, it can be devastating.”
”This CLREA has been a pain for me for a long time,” says Thorne. “Joining an association is constitutionally protected, and we aren’t questioning that, but there is a statement where you agree to do this that is very subtle in their agreement. It’s like signing a document.”
Thorne worries that most people won’t read through the agreement and therefore don’t realize what it is they are agreeing to. He points to online licensing agreements as an example. “Have you ever completely read through one? You have to read anything you are agreeing to deal with,” says Thorne.
Thorne notified Fred Underwood, Senior Policy Representative Government Affairs, NAR, and asked for the organization’s clarification on the issue. He received this answer:
A number of NAR members have recently received promotional emails that link to the website of an organization that advocates activities that discriminate on the basis of religion, and which may, therefore, violate the Fair Housing Act. In particular, the website encourages sellers of real estate to seek and choose buyers who are Christians. The NAR legal staff wishes to remind all members that it is unlawful to discriminate in the sale or lease of real estate properties, as well as in the provision of real estate services, on the basis of race, religion, sex, national origin, disability or familial status.
”We’ve had a problem post 9-11 with issues because of emotionalism,” says Thorne. “If it can be shown that you deal with anyone, then you've complied with the law."