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Bacon is Popular

Yes, indeed it is.  An entire culture has been developed around this pork product in America, and once limited to breakfast and cheeseburgers, bacon has now found its way into products ranging from ice cream to vodka to toothpaste to fried crickets (I have tried the nacho crickets, not the bacon ones yet). There is another Bacon.  That would be Sir Francis Bacon, who said “Consistency is the foundation of virtue".  Allow me to rephrase the esteemed gentleman's adage with: ”Consistency is the foundation of wisely made housing decisions". It is not as catchy, but at least you have now read this far and may stay with me as I respond to the frequently asked question - at least frequently asked of me:   “Do I have to treat everyone the same?” And the answer is “no” – you do not have to treat everyone the same.  And in fact, often you do not do so.  If one person’s income qualifies them to rent from you, and another person’s income does not, you will treat these folks differently.  One will be offered a housing opportunity, the other will not.  If a resident has a verified and documented history of late payments and disturbing neighbors with loud music or a barking dog, you often will decline to renew that resident’s lease; but the resident who pays on time and presents no issues is the very resident you hope to re-sign to a lease at renewal time. There is nothing in the Fair Housing Act that demands or req......
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Are We Teaching "Fear" Housing?

Are We Teaching "Fear" Housing?
Do you remember those infamous teenage driver’s education films like the “Red Asphalt” series or “Blood Runs Red on the Highway”? These “shockumentaries” dramatized accident scenes or showed scenes from actual accidents, and the (often) gory results of poor decisions by young drivers. The intent was to scare teens into becoming good drivers, by showing them what could happen behind the wheel.    While there is no doubt that these types of movies have made an impact on the minds of those who watched them, I wonder if they also instilled so much fear in young drivers that it made them more afraid of making a mistake, as opposed to becoming proactive, defensive drivers. And when the fear of making a mistake is a primary motivator, mistakes often increase! Plus, some studies have shown that a fear, or threat-based method of teaching drivers safety can often lose effectiveness over time.    Are we doing the same thing when we teach Fair Housing principles?    Throughout my career I’d see people come out of Fair Housing training with a “shell-shocked” look that essentially made them afraid to say anything or do anything outside of a very narrow path. I remember working with someone who didn’t want to ask any questions about prospect’s spouses or children, for fear of violating Fair Housing principles. Interestingly, she didn’t have any problems asking about client’s pets (especially dogs).    Quite frankly~I have a tabby cat … and if a leasing associate asked more questions about my cat than my wife or daughter ......
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Ending the Year on a Serious Note

As a teacher of fair housing law, I try to research and read as much as possible to keep up on what is going on out there and what is relevant for our industry.  As a result, I see not only industry-based information and general news (as do many of you); I also get information from fair housing organizations and advocates (and many of you do not likely see this particular information).  It is from this second category of resources that I have gleaned some information that should cause our collective ears to perk. For decades now I have been advocating “doing it right” as to fair housing for three reasons.  First and foremost, because it is the right thing to do.  Second and third (or is it secondly and thirdly?) because not doing it right can cost you a lot of MONEY and can cost YOU a lot of money. But now there is another reason to do it right, and that is because fair housing advocates are always looking for creative ways to wage what they believe to be the good and necessary fight to combat continuing housing discrimination.  And some of their ideas could and likely would impact you and your organization.  What ideas might those be?  Let me share a couple (‘tis still the season of giving)…from an article in “Poverty & Race”, Volume 22, No. 5, by Fred Freiberg (Field Services Director at the NYC-based Fair Housing Justice Center).  Mr. Freiberg posits that perhaps policymakers and government ......
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"But those stairs were there when they moved in..."

I have recently had a number of questions come my way with the underlying theme of “Didn’t they know they had this problem before they moved in?”  One time it was in the context of a resident who wanted to terminate their lease just two months in because of anxiety issues.  Another time it was about a resident who just moved in and “all of a sudden” needs a service animal (one outside of the pet parameters). And yet another involved a resident who was struggling with stairs “that were there when they moved in” and wanted to relocate to a downstairs unit. Three times is the charm for me – when I hear the same issue come up that often, I think that if three folks are asking me about something, it needs to be addressed.  And voila, a blog is born. So here is what I want you to know. 1.       A prospect/applicant/resident does not have to give you even a hint that they are a PWD (Person with Disability) until such time as they are good and ready to share that with you (if ever). 2.       A PWD can and may ask you to reasonably accommodate them whenever they believe it is necessary to do so.  Perhaps that will be early on, when they are only mildly interested in your community.  It may be when they are actually applying to live there.  Or it may be any time during the lease term – days, weeks or months later. 3.  &n......
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"Oh, (pit) bull..."

John Cotton Dana said that “One who dares to teach must never cease to learn” and I do subscribe to that philosophy, particularly as folks in our industry reach out to me for information and (non-legal) advice on fair housing.  I take that as a compliment and as a responsibility.  While you may not know John Cotton Dana, you very well may know Terry Kitay and Kathi Williams, one a goddess and one a guru, in the area of fair housing information and legal representation (they both can put “Esquire” after their names).  And it was from them (at their excellent session - along with Doug Chasick - at the NAA 2013 Education Conference & Exposition) that I learned two more things about pit bulls that you probably should know. 1.     Some of you have been denying pit bulls as service animals when your insurance policy does not cover you for their actions, or if your insurer suggests that your coverage will be dropped if you allow pit bulls, even those assisting people with disabilities (PWDs), at your community.  After all, losing insurance does not seem reasonable related to an accommodation for a PWD.  However, Ms. Kitay advised that what is required of you is to make a reasonable inquiry with other insurers to see if the same terms and conditions are in place, or whether you can in fact obtain similarly priced insurance with coverage that includes liability for having pit bulls as service animals.   2.     While often you will he......
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The Clock is Ticking...

…on “disparate impact” as a legal standard in fair housing cases.  Those of you are keeping up on the boring-sounding, non-sexy “disparate impact” issue in housing know that the impact of having disparate impact as part of the fair housing laws would be significant.  Kind of like being whapped upside the head for the multifamily housing industry.  (For those of you who are not familiar with this concept, there are many articles and opinions out there on this, including some previous blog postings from yours truly right here at MFI.)

 

The “need to know” at the moment is that the United States Supreme (yep, the Supreme Court) has agreed to hear the case of Township of Mount Holly vs. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action in the fall.  Arguably (word play!) we will find out once and for all whether disparate impact should be actionable as a fair housing violation (think criminal background checks being unlawful, for example). 

 

We can only hope that when the ticking is through that the alarm does not go off for our industry and that we have a rude awakening.

 

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That Bites!

Those of us who teach (and yes, preach) about fair housing are regularly and routinely asked “Do we have to take restricted breeds as service animals?”  That question is never easy to answer (at least not easy for me), since State laws and various court cases are not consistent on this topic and issue. And let’s be honest – the question is usually a paraphrase of “Do we have to take pit bulls?”  (Right or wrong, when we hear on the news that tragically a child has been mauled or killed by a dog, we usually do not wonder if the canine involved is a Peek-a-poo.)   Well, now the question will be easier for me answer when asked, but you probably won’t like the answer.  And continuing with the “let’s be honest” theme here, I will admit that I don’t like the answer that I will be giving.  This is one of the (not very often) times that I disagree with what HUD is saying.      Recently, on April 25, 2013 to be exact, HUD issued a notice about service animals, updating and clarifying some of the issues that relate to integrating service animals into the multifamily housing environment.  Included in that notice was a discussion about limitations.  Here goes, directly cut-and-pasted from HUD’s document: Breed, size, and weight limitations may not be applied to an assistance animal. A determination that an assistance animal poses a direct threat of harm to others or would cause substantial physical damage to the property of others ......
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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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Dear Abby's Helpful Hint

This is just a short, to-the-point entry (so unlike me), but this could provide a helpful tidbit nonetheless. Last summer (2012) I posted about hoarding, sharing some good ideas gathered from others (and giving them credit of course). Now I have one more hoarding tidbit to share, this one from, of all places, “Dear Abby”. (She is actually dead; I have no plan to continue to blog from beyond the grave or from my urn however.) Keep in mind that you have the fair housing obligation to reasonably accommodate a resident who is a hoarder. Dear Abby points out that just as there is AA for those who wish to deal with their alcoholism, there are many local chapters of the International OCD Foundation for those who need help managing their hoarding symptoms. So if you are dealing with a hoarder, you should consider going to www.ocfoundation.org to see if there is a local chapter. Providing your resident with information on that (such as meeting location, times and dates) could be one of the “reasonable” steps you take to meet the accommodation standard that is expected of you.

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There's an App for that!

Well, we certainly cannot label the HUD fair housing folks as Luddites. They are embracing not only the availability of modern technology, they are also actively marketing their role in providing education about housing discrimination and how to file complaints. Last week (February 28th) HUD’s Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity (FHEO) introduced its first ever housing discrimination mobile application for iPhone and iPad, created with Hewlett Packard technology. It will now be quicker and easier for the public to learn about their housing rights and what to do if they believe those housing rights have been denied or interfered with. The mobile pages are in English and Spanish, and folks can file complaint forms in both languages.

In the words of John Trasviña, HUD Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity: “Having this first fair housing mobile application equips people everywhere with the information they need to combat housing discrimination. We are maximizing the latest technology to make the process for filing fair housing complaints faster and easier and arming our fair housing partners with the information they need to understand their fair housing rights and responsibilities.”

And keep a look out for a planned “Quick Response code” ad campaign, directing mobile users to those new pages and complaint forms.

http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/press/press_releases_media_advisories/2013/HUDNo.13-031

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