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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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Testing Fair Housing Compliance

Testing Fair Housing Compliance
Fair Housing testing was first approved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1982 as a means to uncover evidence of discrimination. Since the passage of the Fair Housing Amendments Act in 1988, testing programs have expanded to include tests for both national origin and disability discrimination. Telephone Testing Telephone testing is one of the most common methods of testing. This usually takes the form of one tester calling and inquiring about a specific apartment, and then another tester, possibly with an accent, also calls, inquiring about the same apartment. If your staff replies differently to the two phone calls, this could result in a fair housing complaint.   Staff needs to be trained with specific responses as well as how to document these conversations. This will help avoid possible discrimination allegations, and if one is lodged the documentation will provide a basis to prove otherwise.   Comparable/ Non-Comparable Fair Housing Testers Fair Housing testers are usually individuals from the local community who have been specifically trained to conduct fair housing tests. They are trained to use standardized forms that report what transpired during the test, such as the nature of the assistance given, the number, type, and location of units shown, the terms and conditions offered. Fair Housing testers may also use secret video and audio recording devices in jurisdictions that allow their use. Comparable and non-comparable testers will play their distinct parts to uncover any possible discrimination. In most cases, this means that Fair Housing testers may have to lie......
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Fair Housing Training a Must For Maintenance Departments

Fair Housing Training a Must For Maintenance Departments
Maintenance professionals interact with residents on a regular basis, often being the first team members to arrive when a repair call is scheduled. This is why fair housing training needs to be a prerequisite. We expect all our team members to be kind and courteous to residents, but they also need to know where to draw the line to avoid any misinterpretations. Scenario-based fair housing training will aid in finding a balance and avoiding costly complaints. Consider a few of the following scenarios.   Moonlighting and Favors   It is common for residents to ask maintenance professionals to take on side jobs. This can lead to some serious problems. For example, a resident offers to pay an employee to move some things. But what happens if something gets broken, goes missing, or worse yet the employee is injured. Is the company going to be able to support the employee under the circumstances? Probably not as they weren’t on the clock so to speak. Best practices dictate that your employee kindly turns down the job to avoid any possible issues. What about a favor? Doing favors for a resident is something else the employee should politely turn down. Again, something could possibly occur while the employee is helping the resident. Along with that, this can open the door to accusations of favoritism something that you definitely want to avoid. Socializing Should employees socialize with residents outside of work? As a rule, it should be against company policy. What are the benefits of h......
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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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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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For A Fair Housing Defense Proper Documentation Is A Must

For A Fair Housing Defense Proper Documentation Is A Must
Proper documentation can help you defend against an allegation of housing discrimination.  It's pretty safe to say that all property management companies would like to avoid a lawsuit for a Fair Housing violation if at all possible. Document Document Document We always recommend for housing providers to "document, document, and document." It is important to also understand what kind of information to include in your documentation of a particular situation so that if necessary it will serve your interests at a future time. Because we have encountered many documents of housing providers that were not as useful as they could have been, we have some recommendations for you of the kinds of information to always include. Just like party invitations your documents need to contain who, where, when, and why. It is also useful to include any other staff person or resident who was present or has knowledge of the situation. Company Forms Many companies use specific forms to document situations and complaints. Using these forms is often preferable over merely writing a narrative because often the forms prompt the employee to include all relevant and important information. If you don't use forms, it may be worthwhile to develop several for your own use. Try to describe as thoroughly and accurately as possible what was said and how it was said. For example, it is much more descriptive to state "the resident stormed into my office, shouting in a loud voice, using expletives and vulgar language" than to state "the resident......
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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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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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Breaking Through the Fair Housing Wall

Breaking Through the Fair Housing Wall
  As you may have heard, April is “Fair Housing Month.” Oh wait, before I go further, let me say this: “I am not an attorney. This post should not be construed as legal advice, Please consult an attorney if you do have any questions regarding the information contained in this post.” Okay, back to the post. I’m sure we all agree that the passage of Fair Housing laws has been a tremendous force for good in the housing community and in our nation as a whole. As a minority and as a father myself, I’m glad I cannot be discriminated for housing based on my ethnicity or familial status. Equal opportunity in housing is a good thing and should be celebrated. However, I believe that in our attempts to ensure that our people are educated and act in compliance with Fair Housing laws, we may have also created a culture of fear and paralysis which has, in turn, created walls, obstacles and blocks, within our front line people, to providing good, and even “common sense” customer service. Equal Opportunity For Good, Not Bad! I remember being told by someone, whom I was training, that she didn’t offer coffee to any clients out of fear that she would miss someone and be accused of discrimination. When I was the customer care manager of a company in Southern California I received many complaints from people who were denied refunds or credits or other ‘exceptions,’ that actually made good customer service sense, due to “fair housing" conc......
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