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Racist seller? Refuse the mandate

Estate agents mustn’t accept any mandate coming with discriminatory stipulations, even if the landlord/seller should insist on this. This is the right thing to do and it is what the law says.

Former estate agent Vicky Momberg has barely been in jail for a month, making history as the first person in the country to receive a jail sentence for racist behaviour, or the property industry is again linked to another racist incident, this time an intern agent of Pam Golding who texted in reply to a query about a property that it is only available for rent to white people.

The texted conversation was immediately shared by the recipient on social media leading afresh to public questioning about latent racism in the property industry. Some comments intimated that similar responses have been encountered with other estate agencies. Last year an agent from Dick and Sue Home Finders got into trouble because she was listed as contacting agent on an online advertisement for a home for ‘whites only’.

Jan le Roux, CEO of industry body Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa (Rebosa), said estate agents should really do the right thing and not accept nor follow suit when a seller/landlord is racist.

“We all know the constitution, we have signed the pledge, we must treat everybody equally. The fact that the landlord/seller might be racist, does not give agents the licence to follow suit. Although we act on behalf of principals, we still have our own conscience and we still have to be law-abiding citizens. Our duty in such an instance is to advise our landlord that he is in contravention of various Acts is actually supporting racism and that he shouldn’t do so. The consequence could be dire for them too,” said Le Roux.

He also again emphasized the importance of agents signing and then abiding by the Rebosa Equality Pledge, a list of commitments designed to remove racism and discrimination from the property trade.

Discriminatory behaviour by agents also constitutes a breach of the Code of Conduct for Estate Agents which is enforced by the Estate Agency Affairs Board (EAAB), the regulatory body for estate agents in South Africa.

The Rental Housing Act (Act No 50 of 1999) is also very clear. It states as follows: In advertising, negotiating or during a lease, a landlord may not discriminate against a tenant or prospective tenant (or members of the household) based on race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, sexual orientation, ethic or social origin, colour, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language or birth.

Christo Weilbach, national board member of the Institute of Estate Agents of South Africa, said their organisation don’t condone this form of discrimination and that agents should walk away from such business offers.

“Under the EAAB code of conduct it is understood that no estate agent or agency may take such a mandate and should walk away from it. Some agents reason that someone else will take the mandate, this however is not correct as all agents are bound by that same code of conduct. Any agent handling matters in such an inequitable manner should be reported and dealt with by the EAAB. If the owner wishes to discriminate, the owner should take responsibility for their own decision and agents should not get involved,” said Weilbach.

Directly following the incident, Dr Andrew Golding, Chief Executive of the Pam Golding Property group, in a radio interview on 702 Afternoon Drive with Joanne Joseph, said they are taking the incident very seriously and stating that they do not condone any kind of discrimination (click to listen if you missed it

“Pam Golding Properties does not tolerate or condone any kind of discrimination in any shape or form,” reiterated Golding this week to Property Professional.

He blamed the incident on a lapse in training saying the agent involved was an intern who had only been with the company a few months and had not been made fully aware of the company’s stance and policy with regard to non-discrimination in any form, including that by landlords – “including the fact that it is company policy to refuse to take on any business of a discriminatory nature”.

“We fully support the Estate Agency Affairs Board in their efforts to eliminate any discrimination within the real estate sector. Similarly, we also fully endorse Rebosa’s (Real Estate Business Owners of South Africa) Equality Pledge of a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of discrimination,” added Golding who was a founding signatory to the Rebosa pledge.

He said as soon as they were made aware of the situation, they terminated their mandate with the landlord. Golding also confirmed that he contacted the complainant Sifiso Masilela to apologise to him unreservedly and on behalf of the company for any distress or offense that may have been caused. According to Golding Masilela accepted the apology and the group aren’t aware of any further action he may take.

In the ensuing investigation into the matter, it was determined that when the mandate for the property was first obtained in writing on 1 January 2018 by the Pam Golding Properties White River office, there were no conditional criteria in the mandate and the landlord gave no indication of any discriminatory stipulations in regard to the letting of the property.

Golding said it was only during a recent conversation in April that the landlord indicated the racial preference for a tenant.

“As a result of this incident coming to light, we have already recommunicated our policy of non-discrimination to all offices and will as a matter of urgency do everything in our power to ensure this is reiterated and clearly understood by all our staff and agents, as well as all existing and incoming intern agents. We realise that this needs to be conducted on an ongoing basis,” Golding said. He said they are also working on new policy training videos that will become mandatory for every agent and staff member, which will include the company’s stance in regard to non-discrimination.

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