Is your team prepared and educated in Fair Housing? It’s not just about attending a class or checking a box online. It’s important that you discuss best practices on a regular basis to help your teams be prepared for those “unexpected” questions, requests or challenges that come their way. Understanding fair housing is the best protection against a fair housing claim.
In January of this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced it was investing $37 million into fair housing organization to fund the fight against housing discrimination.
So I ask the question: HUD is investing in their education but is your team investing in theirs?
Your education should start by understanding your lease contract and your community policies. Fair housing complaints don’t always come from someone saying the wrong thing. Sometimes the policies we have in place may appear to be discriminatory. It is acceptable for a landlord to have a set of policies for all residents to live by. The policies should be basic and non-discriminatory. Rules should be written so they are applicable to all residents and not just a specific group of residents. A community policy that states “Children shall not ride skateboards in the breezeways” may be discriminatory. Using general terms such as >residents< or >guests< rather than >children< should keep the rule unbiased and fair; plus, it can be applied to all residents. Let’s be honest, we don’t want the 25-year-old riding the skateboard in the breezeways either. Rules must be enforced uniformly for all residents and records regarding violations need to be kept.
As always—Document, document, document!
When asking managers what “Fair Housing” type questions they get asked the most, they say “Service Animals” and “Handicap Parking.” The answer is usually followed by “Do I really have to let them have that animal?” or “They get an ASSIGNED parking spot?” The comment is always followed by, is it reasonable?
Properties are being asked about service/ companion animals on a regular basis. It is VERY important that you are aware of what to say or what you can ask. The Fair Housing Act obligates a housing provider to provide an accommodation, meaning a change in “rules, policies, practices, and procedures,” if the requested change is necessary to allow a person with a disability to make full use of their housing. Which I don’t think any of us would disagree with but how do we know if it is a real request or just someone who doesn’t want to pay a pet fee or deposit?
Many people don’t have the heart or are afraid to ask for medical documentation, or they just don’t know what they can ask for. Experts say that you can ask for verification from a third party, credible professional familiar with the disability. Please note, I did not say a “medical professional or MD.” They need to be a third party, credible professional familiar with the disability.
The three steps to approving an accommodation:
- Certify that the person making the request for an accommodation has a disability, as defined by the Fair Housing Act.
- Describe the accommodation that is needed.
- Show the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the accommodation. (they should not share any medical diagnosis or medical records for the person)
At the end of the day, fair housing laws guarantee that regardless of your race, religion, color, sex, national origin, disability or familial status you have the right to choose the housing that’s best for your needs—with no outside preferences or stereotypes being imposed. If you meet reasonable criteria set by the property owners, then you have the opportunity to reside in a beautiful place to call home.
Again, we ask the question, is your team prepared for those tough Fair Housing type questions? HUD is investing in the fight against housing discrimination and so should you.
If you are looking to train your people, AATC has a few opportunities for Fair Housing education in the coming weeks. Visit www.aatcnet.org for more information.
Sarah Turner, CAM, CAPS, NALP, NAAEI Faculty, is a Regional Manager for Olympus Property Managment.