News Fair Housing Handbook: Avoiding Discriminatory Advertising

Fair Housing Handbook: Avoiding Discriminatory Advertising

If you are a realtor or just placing an ad to share your house or apartment, it’s your responsibility to avoid discriminatory advertising. But are you paying attention to how you word your listing? Perhaps you should take a closer look!

The provisions of the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3600, et seq.) make it unlawful to discriminate in the sale, rental, and financing of housing, and in the provision of brokerage and appraisal services, because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

While there are some exemptions to the act, it is always illegal to use discriminatory advertising. 

Discriminatory ads include print, online, social media, and radio or television. The publisher of the ad as well as the individual placing the ad can both be liable for discriminatory advertising. The intent of the advertising does not matter – you will be liable even if you did not intend to discriminate. 

That’s why it’s important that you know the test for discrimination:

Whether an ordinary reader/viewer/listener (consumer) of the advertising would think the statement contained in the advertising contains a preference for certain groups or is limiting certain groups.

Some examples of obvious discrimination include: “no children” or “English speaking only.” Examples of subtle discrimination include: “perfect home for empty nesters” or “only interested in selling to young professionals.”

It is great to let consumers know that you are committed to Equal Housing for all by using the Equal Housing Opportunity logo ( However, make sure the logo is clearly visible and the same size as other logos in the advertisement.

If you are using individuals in an ad campaign, make sure the photos represent persons from majority and minority groups, including gender diversity and diverse individuals and families. Using English language only for advertisement may be seen as a violation of the Fair Housing Act if the demographics of the community suggest the need for an ad in another language.

If you have accessibility features in your property that you want to highlight, pay attention to the language you use in describing the property. Using descriptive words regarding disability such as crippled, blind, deaf, mentally ill, etc. may be considered a violation of the FHA. Describing the property is the best option. An ad that mentions “active seniors” may suggest that you are seeking to exclude persons with disabilities, however, an ad that highlights “nearby trails and park” tells prospective tenants about positive features of your property that may interest them.

Take time to review your listings and be mindful of the language you use. Remember that ignorance of the law is never an excuse – discriminatory advertising in any form is illegal.

Our staff at NPLS took ten minutes to look at local rental listings and found the two examples below. Can you spot the discriminatory language?