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Fair Housing from A to Z

We are taking the alphabet, letter by letter, so perhaps you can do things a little bit better To make your community open to all, and not take an unexpected fair housing fall! And, because Fair Housing covers a lot, we’ve created a resource to print out on the spot!     A is for Animals, and you can say no To my dog, cat, or birdie, unless I can show That this critter is truly needed by me To manage better with my disability. Then dog, cat or birdie is not a pet, So accepting my assistance animal is a wise bet.   B is for Boa, as in the large snake, So that you understand that you might have to take, This reptile, or the monkey or even the horse (The latter is a miniature one, of course), Because these can be assistance animals, too. And when appropriate they move in with you.   C is for Children, they will live with you, Unless your residents are older – 55 to 62. Be careful how you restrict them with your community rules, Since perhaps except for your gyms, your spas and your pools, Your policies should reflect the behaviors you desire, From both the young and those with ages much higher.   D is for Damages, and oh, what the cost, If yours is the legal position that’s lost. From punitive damages to penalties civil, The amount you might pay could make you snivel. Communities have lost millions in some of their cases, Where fair housing violations have been the basis.   E is for Everyone, the messa......
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Nadeen's Farewell Post

REFLECTIONS ON FAIRNESS 28 YEARS IN FAIR HOUSING Alexander Britton "Brit" Hume, an American television journalist and political commentator, has said that “Fairness is not an attitude.  It’s a professional skill that must be developed and exercised.” For more than a quarter of a century I have been a believer in, and a teacher and writer of fair housing law as Fair Housing Lady.  For more than 20 of those years I have been supported and encouraged in that role by my employer, ForRent.com.  And with the invitation from Brent Williams it has been an honor to have a place to share my thoughts and ideas as to fair housing with industry professionals here at MultifamilyInsiders.com.  It is, however, time for me to move on to another chapter in my life and that new chapter will begin with my May 26th retirement.  So as I say good-bye and hang up my Fair Housing Lady hat, I would like to share some thoughts with you one more time. Before the Fair Housing Act was amended in 1988, most of us in our industry had little if any knowledge about fair housing laws.  It was not that we were bigoted or evil.  On the contrary, the “good guys” did not intentionally discriminate and at the time, that was all that mattered, especially as there were “bad guys” who did in fact do so and that was the fair housing focus. With the 1988 amendments to the Act, however, fair housing became a widespread issue for the......
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One bad apple...

About a year and a half ago I blogged about sexual harassment in housing.  At the time I had recently been an attendee and speaker at the Fair Housing Matters conference.  There, Bryan Greene, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, was a keynote speaker who paid homage to those women who exhibited their courage in standing up to landlords whose housing discrimination and sexual harassment rose (or more aptly, sank) to the level of being despicable.  More recently (last month in fact) I attended the annual fair housing conference at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.  Keep in mind that most attendees are passionate civil rights supporters who work for HUD or FIPs or FHAPs or who are in private practices that mainly bring plaintiff’s cases in the world of fair housing.  During these classes I learned that the DOJ (Department of Justice) Civil Rights Division had successfully brought to conclusion the largest ever sexual harassment case in DOJ history.  For those of you who like case references and are inclined to read about this in much greater detail than this blog provides, check out United States v. Southeastern Community and Family Services (M.D.N.C.).  For those of you not so-inclined who would rather just hear the pertinent details, here goes… ·         The Complaint was filed against Southeastern Community and Family Services, and two employees: John Wesley (Section 8 Housing Coordinator responsible for managing the Section 8 waiting list, determining the distribution of Section 8 benefits for applicants and part......
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And It Hurts So Bad...

September for me will always be “back to school” time, even if so many schools, colleges and universities begin classes as early as August 1st (which is the case in the county where I reside).  So back to school I went this month, at the John Marshall Law School Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic (in my favorite US city of Chicago).  Their annual conference on fair housing not only provides me with necessary continuing legal ed credits, but also the opportunity to learn from, talk with and listen to people from HUD, FHAPs (Fair Housing Assistance Programs), FHIPs (Fair Housing Initiatives Programs) and private law firms that practice exclusively in the area of fair housing from the plaintiff’s perspective.  I have referred to this in blogs past as my “peek behind the curtain” and once again I have gleaned information that I would like to share. During one of the sessions (with the captivating title of “Enforcement: Public or Private: State or Federal; Judicial or Administrative?”) the audience, particularly those involved with FHAPs, were chastised for not aggressively seeking emotional damages in their fair housing cases.  There was discussion about how the denial of housing or housing rights does not only mean that someone does not get to live in their housing of choice.  It can also mean that they are angry, hurt, shamed, discouraged, and perhaps facing consequences that could be life defining (such as their child not being able to attend the good public school in that area).  ......
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Warmly Welcoming Martha Stewart

Well, my previous post from a view weeks ago was somewhat prescient as later that day Mr. Castro went public with HUD’s position on criminal background checks for folks wanting to rent.  That has created a flurry of comments, confusion, information and questions.  What blogger wouldn’t want to weigh in on that?  So I will do so, but first:   I told you so!  I have (for years!) encouraged and beseeched the apartment industry to soften up a bit on the “any felony, ever” basis for rejecting applicants.  I made the point that Martha Stewart would likely not be accepted as a resident (notwithstanding that while she may be annoying, she is not dangerous, that she can pay the rent, and at the end of a lease her unit would be more lovely than when it was rented to her).    Now, on to some tips as to how to navigate the current waters of criminal background checks for applicants…   1. First and foremost, there should be no asking for or looking at any arrest records whatsoever.  If this has been the previous policy, that needs to be changed immediately.  To further be in a safe harbor, it is suggested by some fair housing experts that you also ignore the following: misdemeanors of any kind adjudication withheld, dismissals, pre-trial diversions nolle prosse, acquittals on any offenses convictions for possession or use of illegal drugs or controlled substance or paraphernalia related paraphernalia (which is not the same as convictions for manufacturing or distri......
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Channeling Dusty Springfield

I am wishin' and hopin' and thinkin' and prayin' that you will take a look at your policies as to criminal background checks for those applicants seeking the opportunity to rent from you. And that is not because you want to get into anyone’s arms, but rather it is because you do not want to get into fair housing trouble. I have it on very good authority that the issue of disparate impact and criminal background checks is heating up, and heating up quickly.  It is highly likely that someone out there (it could be you!) is going to get smacked with a disparate impact claim based on their “no one with a felony conviction may rent from us” policy.  For years, along with many of my esteemed fair housing colleagues, I have been advocating that you should be looking at “best practices” on the issue of criminal background checks.  Rather than having a blanket denial of housing for every felon, please, please, please think about drawing up a policy that is more narrow and clearly connected to the risk that a felon actually presents as a potential resident.  A good argument can be made about your liability in renting to a rapist, arsonist or the person who manufactured drugs.  But should embezzlers, scammers and Martha Stewart truly be denied their housing opportunities forever?  And what about those folks whose crimes were committed decades ago?    With last summer’s Supreme Court ruling on disparate impact as part of the Fair Housing Act, you sh......
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Rumor Has It...

 

This post is short yet not-so-sweet.  It is based on rumor, so I absolutely do not vouch for its accuracy, but my source is fairly credible (how mysterious that sounds).  It appears that in Texas, HUD and some of the fair housing groups are concerned about overly restrictive rules for children who reside in apartment communities.  As a result, rumor has it, they are reaching out to existing residents at apartment communities and giving them SASEs (self-addressed stamped envelopes) so those residents can “report” to HUD about children-based rules where they live.  Whether this rumor is sound or not, do consider looking at all of your “children can’t go there” – “children can’t do that” – “children can’t use that” rules, decide if they are truly necessary (best if it is from an objective health and safety perspective) and document your reasons for each rule.  That is a good business practice, no matter what.  And just because this is supposedly a “Texas issue”, don’t be smug and think that this sort of a survey could not be taken at your community, wherever it may be located.

 

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A Peek Behind the Curtain...

  When Dorothy and her friends were able to see behind the curtain of the great and powerful Oz, they found he was not so great and powerful after all.  When I was able to see behind the curtain of those government employees and advocates committed to fair housing law principles and enforcement (at a recent conference at the John Marshall Law School/Fair Housing Legal Support Center & Clinic in Chicago), I well knew that (1) these folks are passionate and committed and (2) oh, yes – they do have the power (to bring charges and file lawsuits).   Being the good student that I am, I took notes and am sharing some of what I heard with you who are housing providers (and of course subject to the Fair Housing Act).  I won’t editorialize much if at all on these, but am serving this up for your edification of what thoughts are being “thunk” behind the scenes.   Bryan Greene, Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity has devoted his professional career to fighting housing discrimination.  He was asked what his “wish list” might be and here is what he said:   He would like to see “source of income” added to the federally protected classes under the FHA. He would like to see LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transgender) added to the federally protected classes under the FHA. He would like there to be no statute of limitations on the non-fair housing compliant design and construction of apartment communities (me......
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You say "tomato" and I say "tamate"...

...you say "potato" and I say "patata".  If you have ever wondered (as I have and as I have been asked many times as a fair housing teacher) what the difference is between "Latino" and "Hispanic", I have finally figured it out.  That is because there is an amazing comic that clarifies this and now I know that "Latino" is a term of geography (where someone is from) and that "Hispanic" is a term of language (what someone speaks).  How easy-peasy is that?  I give double thanks to Terry Blas, the very clever cartoonist for (1) clarifying the question/issue and (2) making this one of the easiest blogs I have written because all I need to do is send you to the link:  http://www.vox.com/2015/8/19/9173457/hispanic-latino-comic.

Adios!

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No Crystal Ball: Disparate Impact Is Not Crystal Clear

  The National Apartment Association recently provided an excellent webinar titled “Fair Housing Disparate Impact:  Learn How the Supreme Court’s Decision Affects You”.  The two attorneys who presented (Harry Kelly from Nixon Peabody LLP and Mike Skojec from Ballard Spahr LLP) wrestled well with the topic of this relevant decision (that disparate impact is a facet of fair housing law) while at the same time making it clear that what this means and how it will impact our multifamily housing industry is not clear at all.  The webinar covered weighty topics that I will not even begin to try and explain (such as the dilemma of revitalization/ affordable housing – damned if you do, damned if you don’t; pending decisions that will interpret the Supreme Court decision; shifting burdens of proof; whether the HUD Rule on disparate impact is consistent with the ruling).  It is clear to me that these issues are way above my pay scale.   Where I found the webinar to be particularly helpful was in identifying where some real world issues may arise and how to prepare for them.  While no one professes to have a crystal ball, I will (with great appreciation to these to lawyers for their insight) share what I learned.    Examples of anticipated future kinds of challenges:   Drug/crime screening policies Rental decisions based on source or type of income/income multipliers (such as requiring income that is 2 times or 3 times the rent) Credit Screening “House rules”  (such as those affecting families) I ......
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