SPECIAL REPORT: Are Potential Fair Housing Mistakes Keeping You Up at Night?

By Erika Schnitzer, Associate EditorDenver–With the growing concern over potential fair housing violations and the mounting number of lawsuits over such mistakes, it is crucial for the multifamily industry to be aware of a multitude of issues relating to the topic. At Multi-Housing World in Denver, a panel comprised of Anne Sadovsky, certified speaking professional; Nadeen Green, senior counsel, For Rent Media Solutions; and DJ Ryan, fair housing specialist, Kimball, Tirey & St. John LLP, discussed “what should keep you awake at night.”Whether or not you make all efforts at following fair housing practices, it is imperative that you have insurance to cover violations, the panel explained, as well as to be aware of what and who is covered. Also, choose an attorney who specializes in fair housing law, if possible. In terms of occupancy, the fair housing law does not set a standard, Green explained, but individual states may. Whatever managers choose to do, however, it is essential to document policies. To avoid familial status discrimination, Ryan suggests setting up a policy explaining that if a minor is brought into the residence, consequently bringing the occupancy standard over its limit, the residents may stay in the unit until the end of the lease but must move to a larger unit at that time. With immigration status increasingly becoming a concern, Green explained that there are no ordinances saying managers have to verify residents’ right to live in the United States and noted that this is “a non-issue for the industry.” When it comes to asking for photo identification for any prospective resident, however, she cautioned that managers must know why they are doing so, whether it be for security reasons or otherwise, to avoid potential discrimination lawsuits.Disability issues are the number one fair housing complaint, Ryan asserted, with these being largely related to mental disability issues. Some important physical disability issues to consider include assistive animals, which may not always be seeing-eye dogs, that cannot be included in pet policies. For parking requests, which is the number one complaint filed against landlords—who rarely win such cases—it is crucial to work with the resident to see what will work before denying the request, warned Green.For the mentally disabled resident, if the behavior is a condition of a disability, the resident must be accommodated. Be aware of the difference between direct threats versus simple annoyances, the panel cautioned, and make a concerted effort. Green suggested reaching out to organizations experienced with the disability to seek advice on how best to handle the resident. For each issue, including occupancy standards, familial status, immigration status, and both physical and mental disability issues, the panel advised that all employees must be aware of their policies, know why they are in place and be consistent with all residents or prospects. Additionally, they advised those in attendance to document such policies and make them readily available.