Best of the Legal Hotline: Fair Housing


 Debbi Conrad & Tracy Rucka  |    April 01, 2005
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The following questions regarding interpreters were recently asked of the Legal Hotline.

A broker is working with a deaf couple, and they have requested an interpreter at the closing. Is it the responsibility of the broker, the company or the buyers to hire an interpreter? 

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), real estate licensees and other professionals have an obligation to effectively communicate with their clients and customers. The law states that effective communication includes furnishing appropriate auxiliary aids and services where necessary to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities. The rationale stated in the federal law is that, unless a broker can communicate effectively and accurately with a client, there is a serious risk of the broker not understanding the client’s or customer’s requirements, and thus providing incorrect advice, insufficient disclosure or misguided negotiation. Sign language interpreters and written materials are two examples of auxiliary aids and services that may be needed to provide effective services to a deaf client or customer. The more complex the communication, like contract negotiations, the more likely it is that an interpreter will be required. The cost of providing sign language interpreters for deaf clients is part of the cost of doing business; it is similar to the cost of providing a ramp, disabled parking space or other physical accessibility feature, which may not be passed on to clients with disabilities.

Since family members and friends may not be able to provide impartial or confidential interpreting, even if they are skilled sign language users, the Department of Justice regulations define a qualified interpreter as, “an interpreter who is able to interpret effectively, accurately and impartially, both receptively and expressively, using any necessary specialized vocabulary.”

However, there is an undue burden test. Factors to consider in determining whether a broker will experience an undue burden include the cost of the sign language interpreter, the overall financial resources of the business or practice, the number of employees, the effect of providing the aid or service on the resources and operation of the business, and the difficulty of locating or providing the sign language interpreter. In most instances, the reasonable hourly fee of a sign language interpreter for occasional meetings with deaf clients or customers would not be considered an undue burden for a successful real estate business. If an interpreter is an undue burden, all available means to serve the needs of the client or customer should be provided, such as extensive written materials, attorney review contingencies, or additional time.

Do transaction documents need to be translated into Spanish for Spanish-speaking customers and clients? 

The WRA has created a line-by-line explanation of both the residential listing contract and the residential offer to purchase that are available in both English and Spanish. To obtain a copy, visit the WRA Translation Resource Page, www.wra.org/Translation.

A listing broker received an offer from an agent working with the buyer. The buyer does not speak English, and the selling agent used the buyer’s 14-year-old son for interpretation. Whose responsibility is it to provide an interpreter? What is the listing broker’s responsibility? 

The goal in all transactions is effective communication with clients and customers. Using professional interpreters limits the risk of not understanding the parties’ requirements and the risk of the party not understanding the agent or the contract. Family members or friends may not be able to provide impartial or accurate interpreting. The listing broker may suggest, in writing, that the buyer work with an independent, professional interpreter to assure adequate translation is provided during the transaction. If there are any concerns about interpretation, it is best to use a qualified individual.

For more information about translation and interpretation issues and to obtain a Consent for Interpretation Services form, seethe March 2001 Legal Update, "Providing Good Customer Service to Persons with Special Needs" at www.wra.org/LU0103.

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