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Fair housing laws generally apply to advertisements in the newspaper, online and even on yard signs. As such, auctioneers advertising real property (and to some extent personal property) cannot indicate a preference or limitation based on any federal nor state protected class when advertising.

As a general rule, real property auction advertisements should describe the property’s amenities and features, rather than characteristics of the preferred buyer. This avoids giving bidders the impression that you or the seller prefer, or will not permit, a certain type of person to buy.

For example, an advertisement that reads “Perfect starter home” might give the impression that the seller is looking for a couple with no kids and thus a particular familial status. Yet, “One bedroom with 900 square feet of living space” is perfectly fine as this describes the property, not a particular buyer.

Two distinct fair housing acts affect all auctioneers in the United States:

  • The Civil Rights Act of 1866 (as amended) prohibits discrimination in any property (real and/or personal) transaction based upon race, color or ancestry.

  • The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 (as amended) prohibits discrimination in residential (1-4 unit and residential land) transactions based upon race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. Exemptions to this act include private clubs, religious organizations, for-sale-by-owner and 1-4 unit residential rental with the owner living in one unit.

As well, most states have “state civil rights” laws which may outline additional protected classes. Nonetheless, all auctioneers need to keep in mind is “talk about the property and not the thought to be ideal buyer.” For example:

    Three bedrooms, full basement, 1 acre lot, 1/2 mile east of Folly National Park, remodeled kitchen, two-car attached garage, mature trees, corner lot, refrigerator, dishwasher, washer and dryer included … which is information about the property.

And not:

    Great starter home, bachelor pad, easy walk to Folly National Park, wonderful family home, couple’s paradise, man-cave basement, near Catholic church, large Hispanic population … which is information indicating a preference for a certain buyer.

Finally, we wrote some time ago about the Civil Rights Act of 1866 for auctioneers and how it applies to all property: all real property and all personal property. Here again it may be prudent to repeat: it’s best to talk about the property characteristics and not the preferred (or a suggested) buyer.

Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, CAI, CAS, AARE has been an auctioneer and certified appraiser for over 30 years. His company’s auctions are located at: Mike Brandly, Auctioneer, RES Auction Services and Goodwill Columbus Car Auction. He serves as Distinguished Faculty at Hondros College of Business, Executive Director of The Ohio Auction School, an Instructor at the National Auctioneers Association’s Designation Academy and America’s Auction Academy. He is faculty at the Certified Auctioneers Institute held at Indiana University and is approved by the The Supreme Court of Ohio for attorney education.