Will You Pass the Fair Housing Test?

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 made it illegal to treat residents differently based on their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, family status, or handicap. To monitor and enforce this law ( as wellas similar laws at the state and sometimes local levels) a wide variety of organizations and governmental agencies are "testing" rental communities all over the country.

The process of testing involves sending two separate "testers" to your property. These testers will falsely claim to be a propspective resident interested in renting at your community. They will espose themselves to your sales presentation and/or tour. Once they have left your property, the tester will complete a report on specifically what happened during your encounter with them.

The two testers will visit your property separately but will represent themselves as having very similar needs, interests, and income. The only difference between the two testers will be that one will be of color; or perhaps he/she will use a wheelchair; or he/she will have children. That is, one tester wil be oviously a member of one of the protected classes. If there are any differences getween the two testers' reports, you could have a Fair Housing complaint and/or lawsuit filed against you.

Consistency is the key to fair housing compliance. Treat every prospective resident exactly the same. Some examples of the questions on many testers' compliance reports include:

  1. Did the leasing representative immediately stand to greet you with a handshake?
  2. Were you offered a refreshment?
  3. Did the leasing representative ask your name and use it during the conversation?
  4. Did the leasing representative ask about your needs?
  5. Did the leasing representative complete a guest card on your behalf?
  6. Were you asked for a picture ID before touring the community?
  7. What apartment units were shown?

This is only a very brief sampling of the questions that testers answer to evaluate your consistency. If there are too many differences in the answers to there questions, you may have a serious compliance problem. You must offer the exact same, consistent level of service to every prospect.

Let's examine two common scenarios. In the first scenario, a sweet, gentle, kind, little old lady will visit your property. Let's call her Mildred. Mildred seems perfect for your community, so you offer totake her on a tour. Of course, she couldn't hurt a fly, so your don't bother to ask for a picture ID before touring your community. Later that day a huge man also visits your property. Let's call him Bubba. Bubba seems like a nice guy but he's kind of big and intimidating so you do require an ID before touring with him. Even though you might not intend to discriminate against Bubba, the fact that you treated him differently than Mildred is a clear cut Fair Houisng violation based on sex. You were inconsistent. If Mildred and Bubba are testers for HUD or a local advocacy group, you could have a serious Fair Housing problem.

Folks, testers are out there. Make sure that every prospective resident is treated with the same consistently hight level servie. Make sure you pass the test!

Tim Magill, MS, is a partner with Employee Evaluators. Employee Evaluators is a national "mystery Shopping" firm specializing in sales and service, Fair Housing and ADA compliance issues. Tim welcomes inquiries at 520-296-3000


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