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Fair Housing and Internal Employee Communication

Fair Housing and Internal Employee Communication
Internal employee communication is essential to keep an office running smoothly and fair housing compliant. Without proper internal communication, staff can find themselves struggling to know what to do. Consider the following scenarios. Maintenance Work Request We all know that fair housing best practice is to complete maintenance requests in the order they were received except in the case of emergencies. But did you know that what can be considered an emergency can significantly vary from property to property? As a result, a new hire can quickly become confused as to how to properly handle maintenance work requests if the property’s policy isn’t clearly communicated. This could result in work orders being handled out of order and open the property up to a discrimination or fair housing complaint.   Internal communication of policies and procedures is an absolute must, especially when it comes to new hires. Supervision is also a key component; making sure that if a staff member has a question, there is someone there to help. Along with this, every staff member should have access to adequate documentation as well as regular training. Keeping these lines of internal communication available, aids in workplace compliance.  Callback Policies Callback policies are another place where fair housing compliance can become an issue if there isn’t proper internal communication. Today’s properties face the challenge of sorting through multiple contact points, and phone, email, text, and web-based communication are all part of most properties’ daily communications.    Just as with maintenance requests, fair housing best prac......
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Fair Housing and Sexual Harassment - Staff and Resident Relationships

Fair Housing and Sexual Harassment - Staff and Resident Relationships
  What is sexual harassment in fair housing? Sexual harassment in fair housing focuses on staff or vendor interactions with residents as well as interaction between residents. Just as your staff is trained in sexual harassment between fellow employees, there needs to be training that focuses on how the staff interacts with residents with clear policies that define what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. This article will discuss different scenarios that could affect staff/resident relationships and what needs to be done to avoid a fair housing sexual harassment complaint.   Courteous or Too Friendly? Of course, we always want our staff to be courteous and respectful, but when can that cross the line? Consider, for example, an employee who pays a resident a compliment, perhaps on an article of clothing. This may seem totally acceptable. But what if this staff member continues on with compliments or is noted to pay certain residents more attention than others?   When we talk about sexual harassment, it may be difficult making distinctions about what’s legal and illegal, because there are broader definitions that include the culture or environment. The legal definition of sexual harassment is asking for sexual favors and doing it in a manner that suggests there will be a benefit to the person: they’ll get their rent reduced, they’ll get better services, things like that. Does this mean we are free to say anything as long as we aren’t getting something in return?  A casual conversation or compliment dropped one time is probably ......
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Fair Housing Compliance and Social Media

Fair Housing Compliance and Social Media
Fair Housing compliance and social media can co-exist. However, there can be many challenges for property management professionals. Join us as we discuss how to ensure that your social media is Fair Housing compliant.   Consistent Use of Social Media and Fair Housing Compliance If there is no content plan, then typically what happens is the traditional default of showing a picture of the pool, the gardens, and/or the front entrance sign. But this does not have to be the case. The goal with social media marketing and Fair Housing is to be diverse. Diverse marketing takes content planning. When you can strategically plan out your content over a span of time to demonstrate diversity you can set yourself up for marketing success. This takes solid communication from corporate down to the site teams.   How Does Fair Housing Apply In Marketing Ads? This is an ever-evolving topic based on what options are available on digital ad platforms. Google and Facebook have been under scrutiny for the options that are available to marketers. You can see items like location, familial status, sex, and other categories that have been made available to be specifically targeted. Obviously, this is fair housing red flag for all of us in the property management sector.  The bottom line is that it is our responsibility to be in compliance with Fair Housing no matter where we are advertising. We know the law better than any digital tool that is out there. We just have to do our......
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The Supreme Court's Ruling on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Supreme Court Ruling on sexual orientation and gender identity     In a very recent decision, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590, U.S. ___ (2020), (“Bostock”) the U.S. Supreme Court expanded its interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination. This law prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, but not explicitly on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Court has determined in this decision that Title VII’s protection of employees on the basis of sex also protects employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Employment discrimination cases are filed and litigated at a much higher rate than housing cases, which is why courts often apply the legal analyses from employment cases to Fair Housing Act cases.  This decision is so important to FHI’s Community because like Title VII, the Fair Housing Act also prohibits sex discrimination. Therefore, we can confidently assume that courts in future FHA cases will also extend legal protections to individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.     The facts of this case were not disputed and involved the termination of three employees by three different employers. Two employees were fired because they are gay. The third employee was fired because she presented as a male when hired, but later informed her employer she planned to live and work as a woman. The case reached the Supreme Court due to conflicting decisions from  three Circuit Courts.  The Eleventh Circuit held that Title VII does not prohibit employers from firing employe......
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Reasonable Modification Requests and Your Maintenance Team

  Apartment maintenance staff may receive reasonable modification requests because of their direct contact with residents. Therefore, it’s important that they are educated on how to respond to such requests. Maintenance Employees & Customer Service Residents may discuss their needs for reasonable accommodations or modifications with maintenance employees prior to mentioning their needs to anyone in leasing or management. For example, if a maintenance employee is in a resident's apartment fixing the sink, the resident may tell the employee that she is having difficulty using her shower and needs a grab bar installed as soon as possible. Understandably, a helpful maintenance employee may offer to immediately take care of it without even mentioning it to the office staff. Management should have a reasonable accommodation/modification policy in effect describing the appropriate process that this type of request should follow. The first question is whether this request by the resident is merely a work order or a request for a modification because of the resident's disability. If this is a request because of a disability, then the next question is: Who pays for this modification? Many management companies of conventional properties have a policy that management will install and pay for a modification that costs less than a specified amount (i.e., $200). If so, then this request would merely need to be put in writing and completed. Reasonable Modification Records The important part of the process is getting the documentation of the request and keeping a record that the reasonable modification was co......
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What To Do When A Resident Poses A Direct Threat

What To Do When A Resident Poses A Direct Threat
Can some extreme actions by a resident be deemed a "direct threat," thereby exempting property management from being required to make reasonable accommodation to the resident? Direct Threat Defined The Fair Housing Act does not require that housing providers rent to anyone who would be a "direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others." In many cases, determining that someone poses a "direct threat" to people or property is not difficult. For example, a person who has a history of violence against other people, or a person who has been convicted of arson would certainly fall into this category, and could legitimately be denied housing. However, in other circumstances, it is not so clear whether a person poses a "direct threat." And if the concern is somehow related to a person's disability, the question becomes even more complicated. For instance, you receive an application from a person known to have a mental illness. (Of course, since you are not permitted to ask about the nature or severity of any disability, you did not ask about the mental illness. Let's assume the applicant's last known residence is a psychiatric hospital, and this is all the information you have about his disability.) You may have legitimate concerns about possible dangers associated with renting to this person, including threats to people or property. However, without any objective evidence that a person would, in fact, pose a threat, you cannot......
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Fair Housing Compliance - What Qualifies As A Senior Living Community?

Fair Housing Compliance - What Qualifies As A Senior Living Community?
What qualifies as a senior living community? An increasing number of housing developments appear to be marketing themselves as "Active Adult" or "Empty Nester" communities.  How can that be?  "Adult Only" housing was outlawed in 1988 when President Ronald Reagan signed the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) into law. Familial Status Exemption Among the important changes to the original Fair Housing Act was the addition of "familial status" as a protected class. In 1988, an exemption was added to the familial status rules for properties that are able to qualify as "Housing for Older Persons." The result? Exempt properties are immune from complaints of familial status discrimination. Still, nearly three decades later, many communities that want to exclude children seem unaware or ignore the fact that they first must qualify for an exemption to be compliant with the law.How do housing providers qualify to meet the exemption? At least 80 percent of its units must be occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older. OR,  if at least one person 62 or older resides in each apartment home (100% of the homes), it is also considered a senior living community Properties are required to demonstrate their "intent" to be "Housing for Older Persons." Required Intent How do enforcement agencies determine intent? They will look at the totality of facts. This would include the property’s policies, procedures, leases, advertising and so on. The determination of the required intent is purely a subjective opinion. And in at least one s......
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Property Management Must Act On Sexual Harassment Allegations

Property Management Must Act On Sexual Harassment Allegations
Sexual Harassment Allegations Sexual harassment allegations are a serious matter.  The Baltimore sex-for-repairs $8 million settlement is still fairly fresh on property management companies minds.  Even more recently Uber has hit the media as another high profile company who allegedly has ignored sexual harassment in the workplace.  Obviously becoming a high profile case is the last thing a property management company wants.  This post will remind you of the absolute necessity to have policies and protocols to protect your employees and your residents. Too Friendly? It is not uncommon for sexual harassment allegations to arise within fair housing complaints. While the actions of this company referenced above appear to be egregious and extreme, even less serious actions can result in allegations of sexual harassment. For example, a maintenance employee of an apartment community commented upon the beauty of a single female resident and her young daughter. The resident reported the incident to the property manager, complaining that the maintenance employee was being overly friendly because he was trying to "hit on" her. Although the maintenance employee's comments probably would not ultimately be enough to make a case for sexual harassment, all employees should be cautioned against making remarks to applicants or residents that could be offensive sexually. Since it is difficult to determine what another person might find offensive, employees should simply refrain from overly familiar or personal comments to applicants or residents. In order to hold management responsible for sexual harassment allegations, the person being harassed must prove that management......
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Terrorism Concerns and Managing Screening Policies

Terrorism Concerns and Managing Screening Policies
When was the last time you reviewed your screening policies? Prevent illegal discrimination in screening applicants by developing and practicing consistent policies.  Terrorism concerns are relevant and need to be addressed in a proactive way and not reactive.  Your team needs to be properly trained on Fair Housing compliance and also on how to properly apply any procedures and policies that you may implement. Reviewing Screening Policies In response to the concerns about terrorism, many property owners and managers are reviewing their screening procedures and policies in an effort to make those procedures as useful as possible in identifying potential problem applicants so that whenever possible those applicants will not become residents. Of course, any time a policy results in some applicants being rejected, it is important to ensure that the policy is carefully developed and fairly applied to avoid an appearance that one or more protected groups are being discriminated against. National Origin and Religion The federal Fair Housing Act requires that persons not be discriminated against on the basis of their race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status and disability. The fact that some terrorists are of an identifiable national origin and religion has resulted in blatant discrimination against persons of many Asian and Middle Eastern origins and several religions including persons of the Muslim faith who are not violent fundamentalists. It is obvious that asking a person to move merely because he is from Saudi Arabia is illegal housing discrimination. It is important to remember that a......
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Educate Maintenance Staff About Reasonable Modification Requests

Educate Maintenance Staff About Reasonable Modification Requests
Apartment maintenance staff may receive reasonable modification requests because of their direct contact with residents. Therefore, it’s important that they be educated in how to respond to such requests. Maintenance Employees & Customer Service Residents may discuss their needs for reasonable accommodations or modifications with maintenance employees prior to mentioning their needs to anyone in leasing or management. For example, if a maintenance employee is in a resident's apartment fixing the sink, the resident may tell the employee that she is having difficulty using her shower and needs a grab bar installed as soon as possible. Understandably, a helpful maintenance employee may offer to immediately take care of it without even mentioning it to the office staff. Management should have a reasonable accommodation/modification policy in effect describing the appropriate process that this type of request should follow. The first question is whether this request by the resident is merely a work order or a request for a modification because of the resident's disability. If this is a request because of a disability, then the next question is: Who pays for this modification? Many management companies of conventional properties have a policy that management will install and pay for a modification that costs less than a specified amount (i.e., $200). If so, then this request would merely need to be put in writing and completed. Reasonable Modification Records The important part of the process is getting the documentation of the request and keeping a record that the reasonable modification was completed. The p......
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