The holiday season is upon us, and we should all be preparing to ensure an inclusive and diverse environment for our communities. This article will share some fantastic tips to help you and your community get ready and have a happy fair housing-friendly holiday season!
Many of us have personal opinions about what is and is not acceptable concerning holiday decorations; it’s best to take a step back and see what the law says and then consider some best practices based on that.
On January 9th, 1995, a memorandum was released by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) that in part addressed Fair Housing holiday decorations. The subject was “Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act”. Here is a direct quote from that document.
“The use of secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays such as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or St.Valentine's Day images, or phrases such as Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, or the like does not constitute a violation of the Act.”
So does this mean we can throw caution to the wind? As a professional in the housing industry, you may be faced with holiday-related items that are simply viewed as potentially offensive or insensitive but that are not against Fair Housing laws.
While using these secular terms and items may not be a direct violation, they are related to the protected class of religion. So discretion is needed to make certain that no one person feels discriminated against. To help, ask yourself these questions if you are going to decorate your leasing office:
Having neutral policies and procedures in place regarding the use of community common areas ahead of time is a must. In other words, if your policies allow for religious activities, make sure your policy covers all religions. If someone wants to reserve the common area for an activity, it should not be limited because it is not appropriate for the rest of the residents. The limits should only be for disturbing activities, for example, being too loud. All the limits should be equal for every resident.
Here again, is where your community policies and procedures come into play. If you do allow residents to hang things on their doors or perhaps decorate the patios or balconies of their apartments, there should be house rules to cover all decorations. This will keep it from being viewed as discrimination against religious or cultural decorations.
By focusing on building an environment focused on inclusivity and diversity, we can help everyone feel welcome and appreciated. However, sometimes despite our best efforts, someone may still complain. Do not dismiss this as holiday stress or burnout. Take every complaint seriously and document everything!
Now would be a great time to add some additional fair housing training for your staff that focuses on the holidays to help make sure everyone is on the same page and ready to spread some holiday cheer!