Arizona Attorney General Grant Woods already has published a list of more than 200 words and phrases that should or should not be used in advertising copy in his state. "Christian," "couples only," "parish," "Caucasian," and "nanny's room" are among words deemed unacceptable because they indicate exclusion of people based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity or familial status.
Mr. Woods, recently named chairman of the National Association of Attorneys General's Civil Rights Committee, plans to work with his colleagues from around the nation to beef up enforcement of the Fair Housing Act. He recently warned home builders that state attorney generals could take them to court if their display ads don't picture diverse ethnic groups.
"There is going to be a very aggressive agenda in the area of civil rights," he said. "One of our goals will be to see that all the states begin looking at the patterns of housing advertising and make sure they don't break the fair housing law."
Such lists are a cause of concern for Rhonda Daniels, attorney for the National Association of Home Builders, Washington.
"We are concerned with the lists of phrases being circulated as being inappropriate when in fact there is no basis of law for the refusal of them," she said. "There is no information that there is a problem with some of these words from [the U.S. Housing & Urban Development Department's] standpoint. We will be asking HUD for a clarification."
"Nobody has to go by it but they know that if they don't they might have problems. They are just taking a risk," Mr. Woods said.
Nationally, real estate ads accounted for $661.5 million in spending last year, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
In Arizona, Mr. Woods' office recently completed a six-month, HUD-funded review of home builder display advertising and classified rental ads from the past three years. The $231,900 probe turned up "rampant" violations of the Fair Housing Act, Mr. Woods said. Suits for non-compliance will be filed beginning this fall.
Most of the violations were found in classified ads; problems occur when an ad seems to describe a preference for a specific type of renter.
But Mr. Woods said there were enough problems with new-home ads to warrant putting the home building industry and its representatives on notice.