Any professional property manager knows about Fair Housing and has taken numerous classes or webinars on it. Basically, Fair Housing is about not discriminating against people who are applying for housing. I would like to focus on the not so obvious aspects of Fair Housing and how it supports your property management operations.
- Risk Management
When we treat everyone fairly, with respect and the process is the same for all we dramatically lessen the chance of a lawsuit. When people feel they are treated differently they will take their life experience and apply it to the situation at hand and attribute the denial to rent, or the one-month timeframe to repair a non-emergency maintenance request as discrimination. What do people do when they feel they have been mistreated…they sue. At a minimum, they post negative reviews, will let everyone they know what an unethical company you are and to not do business with you. So how do we manage the risk?
- Be transparent on your website – provide sample application, lease, mgt agreement.
- Communicate clearly and professionally – have a FAQ page.
- Have a reporting and review process for when a complaint does happen.
- Be willing to meet with the person or speak to them over the phone to explain your policies.
- Provide scripts and training beyond taking a FH class so staff are all speaking the same language.
- Test your staff on FH situations and procedures.
In today’s environment everyone wants to be heard. You have your policies and procedures for a reason. Never make an exception or compromise beyond the normal Fair Housing accommodation. Why? It isn’t fair to those that followed the rules and met the requirements. Treat everyone equally and let them know that according to Fair Housing laws you can’t do XYZ because that would be unfair to others, and you would be discriminating against those that followed the rules. Fair Housing states that everyone is to be treated equally.
- New Services
Evaluate the services you offer and determine if changes can be made to better serve your community and support Fair Housing. For example – credit application fees can add up if someone is applying to multiple management companies. This can be viewed as having a disparate impact on low-income people, or families. What if the fee structure was changed to refund the application fee to those not approved? I know property managers that don’t charge an application fee.
Maybe you make all your properties pet friendly, so you don’t play the “service or support animal” game. From an applicant’s perspective you are making them jump through extra hoops to prove they need the service or support animal. What if we remove the barrier all together and put in place two annual walk throughs that the tenant pays for as a condition of living in a pet friendly property? Everyone has the option to have a pet, and everyone pays a fee to check for damage two times a year. That is fair and equal treatment.
- Corporate Culture and Values
Every business has a culture and usually it reflects the owner’s values. So, how can Fair Housing support the culture? Let’s say the primary value of the business is transparency then what shows up on your website, and how you communicate to clients your policies and procedures will be in alignment with Fair Housing. You will have signage and statements on the website, in emails, on all documents stating you are an Equal Housing Opportunity business. If community is part of your culture, then volunteer work aimed at helping protected classes or donating to nonprofits that support underserved groups can incorporate Fair Housing and support the corporate culture. The question to ask is, how does Fair Housing show up in our business, in our departments and with our staff? How can we integrate Fair Housing into our culture?
By integrating the laws and principles of Fair Housing into our business we will manage risk not only for our clients but for the business. Fair Housing lawsuits run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and can potentially shut down a business. Look for opportunities to offer new services that support Fair Housing such as pet friendly properties, or the refunding of application fees to those not approved are a couple examples. Strengthen your corporate culture by integrating the principles of Fair Housing to reflect your values whether it is through community involvement, or a process for hiring that reaches into underserved communities.
Fair Housing is more than just the mandatory class taken annually. It should integrate into every level of the business which will create a strong company that takes seriously their responsibility to Fair Housing and its principles.
Good article. Thank you.