Fair Housing:  Top 10 Things You Should Know to Prevent Discrimination Claims
 

Fair Housing: Top 10 Things You Should Know to Prevent Discrimination Claims

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The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that bans housing discrimination in just about all types of rental housing. The law forbids communities from denying housing to anyone—or treating them ...

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that bans housing discrimination in just about all types of rental housing. The law forbids communities from denying housing to anyone—or treating them differently—based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status.
Owners, managers, and individual employees all may be held liable for a fair housing violation based on a broad range of discriminatory practices against those protected under the law.
In addition, the FHA bans discriminatory statements—by your employees or in your advertising—that indicates a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. And the law also prohibits retaliation against anyone for exercising her rights under fair housing law or assisting others who exercise that right.

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Fair Housing:  Top 10 Things You Should Know to Prevent Discrimination Claims Fair Housing: Top 10 Things You Should Know to Prevent Discrimination Claims Presentation Transcript

  • Fair Housing Coach: Top 10 Things You Should Know to Prevent Discrimination Claims From Fair Housing Coach, a monthly subscription that can significantly reduce a multifamily property owner or manager's risk of fair housing violations and expensive fines Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 1
  • #1: It’s Illegal to Exclude Anyone Based on a Protected Characteristic You may wonder why fair housing law is still needed. After all, the country has moved a long way from the old days when blatant discrimination against racial minorities was common. Today, you’d never dream of saying, “Whites Only” or “No Minorities” in signs or advertising. Yet signs of such blatant discrimination continue, particularly on the Internet where you don’t have to look hard to find ads saying, “Adults Only” or “No Kids.” Just as it’s illegal to refuse to rent to anyone because of her race, you can’t deny housing to anyone because she has a child under 18 living with her— unless the community qualifies as a senior housing community. It’s not easy to comply with all the legal requirements to qualify, such as recordkeeping rules to show that at least 80 percent of units are occupied by at least one person 55 and older. Without complying with these and other rules, your community could be accused of discrimination based on familial status by refusing to allow children to live there. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 2
  • #2: Subtle Discrimination Is Just as Bad Subtle forms of discrimination are just as illegal as blatantly discriminatory policies. The FHA outlaws a wide range of discriminatory practices—from outright refusals to rent to more subtle tactics—that operate to deny housing based on a protected characteristic. Last year, HUD reported that blatant acts of housing discrimination faced by minority home seekers continue to decline in the United States, yet more subtle forms of housing denial stubbornly persist. The report was based on the results of fair housing testing involving 8,000 pair tests in 28 metropolitan areas across the country. Though few were denied an appointment to see an advertised unit, the study found that real estate agents and rental housing providers recommended and showed fewer available homes and apartments to African-American, Asian, and Hispanic families. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 3
  • #2: Subtle Discrimination Is Just as Bad (continued) “Fewer minorities today may be getting the door slammed in their faces, but we continue to see evidence of housing discrimination that can limit a family’s housing, economic, and educational opportunities,” HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan said in a statement. “It’s clear we still have work to do to end housing discrimination once and for all.” Among other things, it’s unlawful to provide inaccurate or untrue information about the availability of a unit because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin, according to HUD regulations. You could open your community up to liability for significant damages for misrepresenting availability to prospects based on their race or national origin. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 4
  • #3: Don’t Make It Harder Take the time to learn your community’s standard policies and procedures and apply them to everyone expressing an interest in—or living at—your community. Consistency is the key to avoid accusations that you’re treating anyone better—or worse—than anyone else based on her race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, or familial status. For example, you shouldn’t make the application process harder for minority prospects—or anyone else protected under fair housing law. Applying more burdensome application procedures, requiring additional documentation, or using delaying tactics based on a protected characteristic could lead to a discrimination claim. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 5
  • #4: Watch Your Words What you say could come back to haunt you. Under the FHA, it’s unlawful to make, print, or publish statements that suggest any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, or familial status. These rules apply to any statements—spoken or written. So you could face a fair housing claim if you make discriminatory statements when communicating with prospects or residents—whether on the phone, in person, or responding by email. You should watch what you say since a fair housing problem could arise whenever you’re dealing with prospects or residents in the office, in the hallway, or in their units. The rules also apply to discriminatory advertising—even online. Even though the rules have been around a while, HUD says that the ban on discriminatory advertising applies to any form of communication, whether in traditional forms of media or on the Internet. And in some cases, online advertising has led to accusations of discrimination under state fair housing laws. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 6
  • #5: Keep Personal Opinions to Yourself We all have personal opinions about how people should behave based on where we live, how we were raised, and other factors, such as our religious beliefs or political views. Of course, everyone is entitled to have personal opinions, but it’s important to remember that they are just that—strictly personal. Don’t allow your personal beliefs or political opinions to affect how you treat prospects, applicants, or residents. For example, some people disapprove of unmarried women having children, but showing that disapproval in the way you treat them could trigger a discrimination claim based on familial status. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 7
  • #5: Keep Personal Opinions to Yourself (continued) Guard against allowing your views on hotly divisive political issues— such as immigration reform—from spilling over into the workplace. You could face a discrimination claim based on national origin if you treat prospects differently because they’re members of a particular ethnic group. Don’t be thrown off by first impressions based on the way applicants or residents look, dress, or speak. Often, they reflect cultural differences associated with race, national origin, or religion, all of which are protected under fair housing law. Take care to avoid even the appearance of unfavorable or discriminatory treatment. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 8
  • #6: You Can Be ‘Too Helpful’ Take care to maintain a professional manner when dealing with prospects, applicants, and residents. You may think you’re just being nice, but you could trigger a fair housing problem by being too nice—or too helpful—for the wrong reasons. The prime example is unlawful steering—that is, guiding applicants to—or away from—the community or particular parts of the community based on a protected characteristic. In some cases, it’s based on racial or ethnic bias—to keep minorities out of the community or segregated in certain areas within the community. But sometimes, it’s out of a well-intentioned—but misguided—attempt to help the applicant. For example, you may believe that an individual with a disability would prefer to live in a first-floor unit, but you could trigger a discrimination claim if you don’t tell her about available units on other floors that meet her needs. It’s unlawful to limit a prospect’s housing choices based on your beliefs about what she would prefer or what would be best for her because she has a disability. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 9
  • #7: Don’t Pick on Anybody—Especially the Kids It’s okay to enforce reasonable rules, especially in common areas, where the community has a legitimate interest in maintaining the property, ensuring safety, and protecting the right of all residents to peaceful enjoyment of their homes. Just make sure that the rules don’t unfairly target families with children—or anyone else protected under fair housing law. You may have legitimate concerns about outdoor play activities that could disturb neighbors or damage your landscaping—but you could trigger a discrimination complaint if the rules unreasonably interfere with the ability of families with children to live in the community. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 10
  • #8: Don’t Be Too Quick to Say ‘No’ Applying standard rules and procedures for all your residents is important, but there’s a catch: You may have to make exceptions for individuals with disabilities. Fair housing law includes special provisions protecting individuals with disabilities. Among other things, the law requires housing providers to consider requests for reasonable accommodations in policies, procedures, and services when necessary to allow an individual with a disability to use and enjoy use of the home. It’s easy to see the need for an exception to community rules when an individual has an obvious disability-related need for the request. If your community has a “no pets” policy, for example, you must grant a request for a reasonable accommodation to allow a visually impaired resident to keep a guide dog, according to federal guidelines. It’s clear that the individual has a disability-related need for the exception and that enforcing the rules would interfere with his ability to live there. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 11
  • #8: Don’t Be Too Quick to Say ‘No’ (continued) But it’s not so easy when the request comes from an applicant or resident who doesn’t have an apparent disability. The law covers a broad range of impairments, many of which are not obvious or apparent, and allows you to request documentation under certain circumstances. Just don’t be too hasty to reject requests just because you’re unsure whether a prospect or applicant is, in fact, disabled. Otherwise, you’re likely to face a disability discrimination complaint. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 12
  • #9: Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew There’s a lot you can do on your own—and with the COACH’s help—to avoid fair housing problems, but don’t be afraid of getting outside help when the circumstances deserve it. Court dockets are full of cases where owners, managers, or employees tried to go it alone—often with unfortunate results. Sometimes a seemingly simple problem suddenly gets out of hand, and other times, it’s a complicated legal issue. Requests for reasonable accommodations often fall into this category, particularly for exceptions to pet policies to allow the resident to have an assistance animal. Perhaps the resident doesn’t have an apparent disability—or perhaps the animal is a pit bull or other restricted breed. You may—or may not—have to grant the request, but you do have to give it thoughtful consideration. Following the rules can be challenging, so it’s a good idea to get legal advice if you’re not sure what to do. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 13
  • #10: Stay on Top of Paperwork Everyone is very busy these days, so you may find that you have little time—or inclination—to sit down and do the paperwork. Big mistake: Good record keeping is essential to defend yourself—and your community—from accusations of a fair housing violation. Under the law, people have quite a long time to file a fair housing complaint. It may be months—or years—since the alleged discrimination occurred. Without the paperwork, how can you be expected to remember just what happened? Even if you do, it’s not as good as documentation created at the time of the events in question. Memories fade, and stories change, so it gives the other side a leg up if you can’t produce the records to back up your side of the story. Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 14
  • Get a FREE ISSUE of Fair Housing Coach Today! Click HERE to Learn More About Fair Housing Coach Benefits of Becoming a Subscriber: • • • 12 issues emailed in PDF format and available online Monthly eAlerts with news and updates on fair housing-related regulations, studies, and court decisions Access to more than five years of archived content including past lessons and quizzes GET IT FREE NOW! Vendome Real Estate Media | www.fairhousingcoach.com 15