CommunityPam's House Blend

VA real estate firm bars gays from neighborhood, gets slapped down

An interesting and positive ruling in NoVa, which is significant in a state that is overall legally hostile to gays. The defense by the real estate agency’s attorney is laughable.

A northern Virginia real estate firm committed housing discrimination when it sold an Alexandria home to a married couple instead of a gay man willing to pay more, city officials determined Monday night.

Lawrence Cummings accused the McLean branch of Long and Foster of discrimination based on sexual orientation and marital status. It was unclear late Tuesday upon which grounds the real estate company was found guilty. Alexandria Human Rights Commission members will issue recommendations for penalties against the company, including up to $5,000 per breach of city housing code, within 30 days, said Priscilla Annamanthodo, who worked on the case. The decision followed weeks of investigation into the 2004 incident.

It was early February when Cummings spotted the home, a four-bedroom rancher in the Beverly Hills section of Alexandria. Smitten, Cummings was prepared to pay up to $600,000 — well above the listing price of $555,000, according to his attorney, Dale Edwin Sanders. But the homeowners held out and eventually sold it to a husband and wife for the original asking price.

Cummings has since reached an undisclosed settlement with the original homeowners. City code prohibits denying housing based on race, color, sexual orientation or other social characteristics.

Brien Roche, an attorney representing Long and Foster, said the homeowners’ decision was based on personality — not personal relationships. “(The other) buyer went out of their way to express their sincere interest in the house,” Roche said, adding that as far as Cummings’ sexual preference, “he never disclosed it, we never asked about it and it was never discussed.”

But Sanders said real estate agents were suspicious after his client, an unmarried, 52-year-old interior decorator, showed up to view the house with other men. He pointed to transcripts of a telephone message left by a Long and Foster agent as well as a conversation in which real estate agent Jackie Moore admitted to another agent that the homeowners wanted to sell the house to “a family who would raise their children in it.”

“This tape-recording and transcript is as close any tribunal will ever see to a smoking gun confession of discrimination,” Sanders wrote in a post-hearing brief. Any penalties in the case would be enforced by the Alexandria city attorney, Annamanthodo said.

Sexual orientation is not covered by Fair Housing Act, so it is up to city ordinances to enforce the law there. However, I thought that Cummings could be covered by the Act because of familial status as well. A married couple cannot be considered above a single person that is able to purchase the house – Cummings was offering more. From The National Association of Realtors’ standard non-discrimination language:

The Code of Ethics

Article 10 of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Code of Ethics provides that “REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. REALTORS® shall not be a party to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status or national origin.”

A REALTOR® pledges to conduct business in keeping with the spirit and letter of the Code of Ethics. Article 10 imposes obligations upon REALTORS® and is also a firm statement of support for equal opportunity in housing.

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding