Taking the Fear Out of Fair Housing!

Probably nothing has struck fear in the hearts of multifamily professionals like the monitoring of Fair Housing compliance by the Federal Government. And probably our compliance is overall as lax as it is to most other laws and rules established for us by local and federal governments. The catch of course, is that we aren't looking at a $50 fine for speeding or a $200 ticket for illegally parking in a handicapped space. We are looking at fines up to and in the millions of dollars range. Then why in the world would any intelligent human being, any company, take the risk of not complying with Fair Housing laws?

Ignorance of the law is no excuse!
Just like it is ineffective to tell the law enforcement officer that you didn't know the speed limit, it is equally as ineffective to claim that you don't know the Fair Housing laws. There are many sources of education in Fair Housing made available to our industry. Although some areas of Fair Housing are still a little grey, most are pure black or white, and we're totally clear on what the laws are.

Just because you don't think it's fair...
Recently at a seminar a participant voiced her opinion regarding our lack of ability to segregate families from the adult or childless residents. I gave her this example: Suppose you personally needed to live in a certain area, perhaps to be close to work or on a busline or near your children's school or near their after school caretaker. You visit an apartment community in the exact location desired and are told that the family section is full but that there are 4 vacancies in the 'adult section'. How would you feel?

After a moment of thought she replied that she would be angry and would demand to live on that property. It was then easy to make her understand how familial status became a protected class.

Because we've always done it this way...
Recently I heard an apartment owner make this statement "I've built and owned apartments for thirty years and nobody is going to tell me who I have to lease to or where." I guess we'll see him in court. All of us deal daily with change in both our personal and professional lives, and those changes are rarely easy or comfortable. The changes brought about by the Fair Housing amendments have certainly not been easy, yet these changes have not only been made, they are not going to be revoked.

So what are your options? Change, comply, or pay devastating fines.

So What Does All This Have to do With Removing Fear From Fair Housing?

Knowledge is power!
Remember the first time you tried to parallel park a car? With no experience, no real training, no knowledge, you probably felt pretty frustrated. However, as the years have gone by, you have conquered that frustration, lost your fear and now feel powerfully capable of parallel parking.

What specifically makes us afraid?

  • Our clientele is educated by the media and the government to know that it can be very profitable to sue housing providers. As many as 40% of complaints filed since 1988 have been bogus, trumped up, manufactured by the complaintant.
  • HUD has a large budget for hiring and training testers/shoppers and you and I never know if our client is really seeking and apartment home or if they're looking for someone to sue.
  • We have to deal with questions from current and prospective residents that are discriminatory in nature, and we're not sure how or what to answer.
  • We're afraid that our 'humanness' will get us in trouble. For example, we may have a bad day when we're not as friendly to one as another, or the office gets extremely busy and we forget to offer refreshments to one person.
  • Someone indicated to us that it is 100% necessary to do everything exactly the same way with everyone, no exceptions. So now we think that we have to carry a physically challenged person to the second floor, that we must show an apartment to someone who is abusive and of whom we're afraid, and that we must shake hands with someone who's hand is rotting off with an obviously highly contagious disease.

So just what is the solution?
Know that you are complying with the law. Document any different behavior on your part on the clients guest card, place a "refreshments are for everyone, please help yourself" sign on the cookie table, and understand that it is not HUD's goal for you to be abused, to damage yourself physically or to risk becoming ill.

As long as your change of behavior is not because of a person's race, color, national origin, religion, gender, familial status or handicap, DON'T PANIC!

And as far as discriminatory questions are concerned, practice the following statement and use it when necessary:

"It is our company policy to lease to all who qualify, including all the protected classes listed on this Fair Housing poster. I will be happy to help you with your apartment needs, but as directed by law, I cannot answer your question."

Ignorance is not bliss!
It is your responsibility to know the laws and guidelines, place as much, if not more importance on Fair Housing as you do on leasing apartments and collecting rent and you won't have to be afraid.


by Anne Sadovsky
one of Multi-housing's foremost marketing and motivational speakers.

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