Safety for Realtors

REALTOR® Safety Month ended Monday. But since safety is really a year-round focus for practitioners, now is a good time to recap the many resources our members have to keep themselves, their colleagues and clients safe.

NAR has an extensive section devoted to personal and office safety issues which includes articles devoted to REALTOR® safety.  For a list of apps and/or devices available to individual REALTORS®, their brokerage companies or their local associations, check out these resources. (Login required)

Illinois REALTORS® highly recommends that agents, offices and local associations take the time to periodically review best practices and resources available to keep themselves and their members as safe as possible in their practices.

Make careful choices regarding safety apps

With regard to safety apps available for smartphones, one must exercise discretion when deciding which of these to use.

Some of the apps provide a tracking/panic button type function for the agent who is meeting a consumer alone or in a remote location.

Others, such as Forewarn, will provide a background or identity check on a consumer who contacts an agent for real estate brokerage services. These types of apps come with a caveat.

Having access to a consumer’s background information might be handy in terms of determining whether the person is who he says he is; but that information could also lead to charges of discrimination, especially in certain geographic areas in Illinois.  The user must be extremely careful not to use a person’s background information in a manner that would be discriminatory based on the consumer’s membership in a protected class.

In Illinois, an agent can use an app that provides a prospective client’s identity and basic background information. However, information that cannot be considered would include arrest records where there were no convictions, juvenile records or expunged records.

The agent and the agent’s company could decide not to assist a person with a list of criminal convictions that show a history of threats to persons or property. In such cases, the office policy and the agent would need to be sure that business is declined or accepted on a consistent basis in order to remain compliant with federal and state fair housing laws.

Different jurisdictions may have more restrictive rules

It is of utmost importance that agents, companies and associations located in specific local jurisdictions do more analysis before utilizing the background check apps available to their members and/or sponsored licensees.

Local governments can have stricter regulations. Cook County, for example, is working on an ordinance (scheduled to become effective close to year-end) that includes criminal convictions as part of the legal definition of criminal history.  In other words, housing providers will need to initially assess an applicant for housing on the basis of whether or not the applicant is financially qualified to rent or buy.  Only after the applicant is assessed on this basis, can a housing provider consider the applicant’s criminal history including convictions.

If there is a criminal history, the Cook County housing provider will be required to conduct an individualized assessment of the applicant to determine whether the applicant poses a demonstrable risk to the personal safety or property of others.  Under certain circumstances, the applicant with a criminal history will have an opportunity to show the housing provider how he or she is rehabilitated and would be a good tenant or owner.

Based on the regulations pending above, if a broker located in Cook County declines service to a prospective tenant based on information obtained from an app on the broker’s phone, showing a history containing a criminal conviction, the broker runs the risk of effectively violating the ordinance by declining service right up front and not allowing a consumer to get to the point where the consumer would be otherwise entitled to an individualized assessment after becoming financially qualified to rent or buy.

All of these different products, programs and applications can be helpful to REALTORS®, but it is important to review the functions and how each works and to consult with company legal counsel about the proper uses and/or which ones to use, which could change depending upon your geographic location.