GATEWAY PERSPECTIVES: Hate Speech Has No Place in the Realtor Vocabulary

Richard Haggerty | November 2020

HGAR Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty

At the Board of Directors Meeting of the National Association of Realtors, Inc. this past Friday, (November 13th), the Directors overwhelming approved changes to the Realtor Code of Ethics that ban hate speech relating to any of the protected classes included in Article 10 of the Code of Ethics.

The most significant change is the adoption of a new Standard of Practice, 10-5, which states: “REALTORS® must not use harassing speech, hate speech, epithets, or slurs based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

I have one word for the adaption of this new policy—BRAVO! Bravo to NAR for taking the lead and drawing a line in the sand against the many times blatant, vitriolic and hate filled posts that appear on social media. Bravo for raising the bar for Realtor conduct when it comes to fair housing and recognizing that words, as well as deeds, matter. Bravo for standing up to the plate and taking action on such an important issue when it would be so easy and safe to say, let’s not rock the boat—it’s up to others to police this issue. Bravo for leading the fight against discrimination and inequality.

Since the NAR Professional Standards Committee put forth these recommendations, I have watched with great interest the discussions that have ensued. Some have argued that the proposed changes violate the First Amendment of the Constitution that protects free speech. NAR made it very clear that the First Amendment prohibits the government from promulgating laws that would restrict free speech and it does not apply to trade organizations creating higher standards for its members.

Some argued that, while they believed in fair housing, the proposed changes would create a slippery slope as professional standards hearing panels will have to decide what constitutes harassing or hate speech. Before becoming CEO in 2012, I served as the professional standards administrator for the association for 28 years administering more than 550 hearings, and I can tell you that every hearing panel makes decisions as to whether a respondent Realtor’s conduct violated the Code of Ethics. That’s what hearing panels are trained to do and they follow hearing procedures proscribed by NAR that are meant to ensure due process for all parties. Enforcement of Article 10 and the newly approved Standard of Practice 10-5 will be no different than enforcement of the other Articles of the Code.

After the Directors passed the recommendations of the Professional Standards Committee, NAR President Vince Malta issued a statement saying “Combatting and overcoming bigotry and injustice starts with each of us. 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.”

For me that is exactly what these changes are all about. It’s too easy to post hate filled rants denigrating other people on social media with no accountability. As NAR puts it, it’s not OK to be a Realtor by day and a keyboard bigot by night. I applaud NAR leadership for creating accountability and for not taking the easy path, but rather the right path for our Realtor members and the communities they serve.

Richard Haggerty
HGAR CEO