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Realtors confront hate speech

Hate speech has no place in real estate — not even when Realtors are on their own time.

That's the judgment of the National Association of Realtors' Board of Directors, which approved a motion by its Professional Standards Committee making it a violation for Realtors to use "harassing or hate speech" toward any of the protected classes under Article 10 of the Realtors Code of Ethics: race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation and gender identity.

The issue arose over the summer as cities across the country, including Oklahoma City, saw large protests demanding racial and social justice after George Floyd, an African American man, was killed during an arrest in Minneapolis.

"Local, state and national Realtor associations received various complaints about discriminatory speech posted online by Realtors earlier this year, particularly on social media," the association said after the board vote on Nov. 13. "In subsequent months, NAR's Professional Standards Committee and Interpretations Procedures Advisory Board met to consider the Code of Ethics' applicability to discriminatory speech and conduct beyond a Realtor's real estate duties. ...

"Following months of meetings and deliberations, NAR's Advisory Board recommended that its Code of Ethics apply to every action a Realtor takes, whether personal or professional."

The Realtors association said it continues working "to reaffirm its commitment to fair housing and position its members to lead America's real estate industry in the fight against discrimination and inequality."

Complaints alleging a violation, the Realtors said, "can now be brought to a hearing panel at a local Realtor association, which will be asked to assess the circumstances of each individual case. Overall, although the proposal seeks to extend enforcement of the Code beyond its current limits of real estate transactions and real estate-related activities, this added reach will not increase a Realtor or Realtor-principal's liability under the law.

"Moving forward, NAR's Professional Standards Committee will continue working to develop case interpretations to assist members and professional standards enforcement volunteers in understanding the Code's applicability."

Realtors across the country saw a few of their colleagues post "ill-informed and divisive" comments on social media, said Steve Reese, an agent with NextHome Central Real Estate, 220 NW 13, Suite 8, and a member of the National Association of Realtors' Diversity Committee. He said the change fits with the industry’s history of expanding on protections in federal fair housing law.

"Realtors can’t use discriminatory speech and then claim they don’t behave in a discriminatory way when it comes to transactions,” said Reese, who will be be president-elect of the Metro Association of Realtors in 2021. “This is a way for the profession to say, ‘We prohibit our members from discriminating, and this is the way we behave all the time, not just at work.’”

Realtor guidance

The National Association of Realtors issued the following guidance to members:

"Standard of Practice 10-5 is not focused on types of speech that might be subjectively deemed 'offensive' or 'discriminatory' by one person and not another. The Standard of Practice is based on very particular types of speech that are directly connected to the protected classes of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity under Article 10. Only the use of harassing speech, hate speech, epithets and slurs based on the protected classes of Article 10 are prohibited. The terms 'harassing speech,' 'hate speech,' 'epithets,' and 'slurs' can be commonly understood by use of a dictionary as well as other easily available references. ...

"Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines 'hate speech,' 'epithets,' and 'slurs' as follows:

"Hate Speech: 'speech that is intended to insult, offend, or intimidate a person because of some trait (as race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or disability).'

"Epithet: '1a: a characterizing word or phrase accompanying or occurring in place of the name of a person or thing; b: a disparaging or abusive word or phrase.'

”Slur: '1a: an insulting or disparaging remark or innuendo: ASPERSION; b: a shaming or degrading effect: STAIN, STIGMA.'

”Again, Hearing Panels must look to whether the hate speech, epithet or slur is based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation or gender identity and not on some other non-protected characteristic."

Reach Real Estate Editor Richard Mize by email at rmize@oklahoman.com .

Richard Mize

Real estate editor Richard Mize has edited The Oklahoman's weekly residential real estate section and covered housing, commercial real estate, construction, development, finance and related business since 1999. From 1989 to 1999, he worked... Read more ›

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