What does steering mean in real estate?

What does steering mean in real estate?


In the realm of real estate, the term “steering” refers to a discriminatory practice that involves guiding or directing potential buyers or renters toward or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or other protected characteristics. Steering is an illegal practice that violates fair housing laws and perpetuates housing segregation. This article delves into the concept of steering in real estate, exploring its implications, legal framework, and efforts to combat this discriminatory practice.

Understanding Steering in Real Estate

Definition: Steering is the act of influencing or directing individuals towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their protected characteristics. It involves providing biased information or making discriminatory suggestions to potential buyers or renters, limiting their housing options and perpetuating segregation.

History and Context: Steering has its roots in the history of housing discrimination in the United States. In the past, discriminatory practices such as redlining, which involved denying loans or insurance to individuals based on their race or ethnicity, were prevalent. While redlining is now illegal, steering remains a contemporary form of housing discrimination.

Examples of Steering: Steering can manifest in various ways. Real estate agents or landlords may provide different housing options, pricing, or neighborhood information based on the buyer or renter’s protected characteristics. For instance, an agent may show predominantly white neighborhoods to white clients while directing clients of color to neighborhoods with a higher concentration of minority residents.

Fair Housing Act: The Fair Housing Act, enacted in 1968, is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. Steering is explicitly prohibited under this law, ensuring equal access to housing opportunities for all individuals.

State and Local Laws: In addition to federal laws, many states and localities have their own fair housing laws that provide additional protections against steering. These laws may expand the protected characteristics or provide more stringent regulations to combat discriminatory practices.

Enforcement and Penalties: Government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and state fair housing agencies are responsible for enforcing fair housing laws and investigating complaints of steering. Violators can face legal consequences, including fines, penalties, and even license revocation for real estate professionals found guilty of steering.

Combating Steering

Education and Awareness: Increasing awareness about fair housing rights and the consequences of steering is crucial. Real estate professionals should receive training on fair housing laws, including the prohibition of steering, to ensure compliance and prevent discriminatory practices.

Testing and Investigations: Government agencies and fair housing organizations conduct testing and investigations to identify instances of steering. Testers, who pose as potential buyers or renters, gather evidence to expose discriminatory practices and support legal actions against violators.

Community Engagement: Engaging with local communities and organizations can help combat steering. Collaborative efforts between fair housing advocates, community leaders, and real estate professionals can promote fair housing practices and create inclusive neighborhoods.


Steering in real estate is a discriminatory practice that perpetuates housing segregation and violates fair housing laws. By directing individuals towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their protected characteristics, steering limits housing options and perpetuates inequality. Understanding the legal framework, raising awareness, and fostering community engagement are essential steps in combating steering and promoting fair housing for all.


– U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development: hud.gov
– National Fair Housing Alliance: nationalfairhousing.org
– Fair Housing Act: law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/chapter-45