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Painting Postcards; The Apartment Developer's Dilemma

I toured an apartment complex the other day and was asking tons of questions of my leasing agent (who knew that I was a developer and was just shopping their product). I am always struck by the wall that goes up when you ask demographic questions (I do get that that these young folks are taught to not even address these questions for fear of being hunted down by the crazy Fair Housing police). Unfortunately, as a developer, these are about the only questions that really concern me.   When choosing whether or not to undertake a $50M investment, understanding who the prospective renter is- is actually a critical part of my job. Of course there is always the basic demographic info that we get from our consultants:   Income breakdowns. Traffic counts. Local rent comparisons. Gender breakdowns. Blah, Blah, Blah…   But to best serve the community and position my leasing team for success, it’s all demographics and psychographics:   ·         What are the racial and sexual preference demographics in the area? ·         What kind of cars do they drive? Do they require regular or premium gasoline? ·         Do they wash the car themselves or use a service? ·         Do they drink beer and wine or alcohol? Which brands? How often? ·         Do they have their shirts dry cleaned? ·         What gym do they belong to? Do they go or just pay for the membership? ·         What TV shows do they watch? ·         Do they have or want to have children......
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Open The Window of Opportunity with Owner-Financing

By Linda Day Harrison, theBrokerList, Chicago, IL Today more than ever, many people do not have traditional sources of employment income. With the job market shrinking, many of us are working for ourselves and are creating jobs by starting businesses and new ventures. With that being said, how does a self-employed individual purchase a residential or commercial location with the stringent financing requirements currently in place? Simple! Look at properties with owner-financing. What is owner-financing? Owner-financing is when the seller of a property is in a position to act in the capacity of a lender. The seller accepts a down-payment and an agreement for repayment. The advantages are tremendous and can be a win-win for both parties. Advantages include: More favorable rates and terms. Easier qualification process. Able to sell a property in a depressed market. Seller can get a much higher return than other vehicles such as a CD. Seller can receive a substantial down payment. Tenant can now become an owner. Less closing costs. Now like anything, there are many pros and cons depending on each seller and buyer's tax consequences and personal financial situation, including whether or not the property is held free and clear. Owner-financing should definitely be a serious avenue to consider when selling a property and when evaluating your lease vs. purchase decision on residential or commercial property. An attorney is needed to assist in the process and as a buyer, you should still do your homework, via a due diligence period. Whether buying or......
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Mr. Gibbs carries the day...

…by carrying the oxygen tanks for 3 year old Alida.  There has been a rash of service animal fair housing cases lately, including ones related to student housing, HOAs and mobile home communities.  Those of us who teach fair housing seem destined to always need to have this topic in our presentations.  One point I have been making is that you will see animals you may not have expected as service animals (miniature horses, monkeys, iguanas) as well as “regular animals” such as dogs and cats providing assistance to the disabled that is new and intriguing (dogs alerting to pre-seizures for epileptics and for low blood sugar for diabetics).  Which takes us to Mr. Gibbs… Fox News has recently featured a darling, curly-headed 3 Alida, who lives in Loganville, Georgia.  Alida has a very rare lung condition that affects her breathing.  Her Dad describes it as having too many filters in an air-conditioner – it will have to work hard to cool and the compressor will likely give out.  Alida’s lungs have growths that make her have to work hard to breathe, which will tax her heart.  The solution is for Alida to be on oxygen, provided from tanks to tubing to her nose.  But when you are three years old and your parents want you to have as normal as possible a life, that is difficult to accomplish when tethered to tanks.  Enter Mr. Gibbs, Alida’s service dog, who wears a specially designed “jacket” with pockets to carry the oxygen......
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Woof v. Yip

Some of us in fair housing circles (yes, there are actually fair housing circles) have been stunned lately about the rash of cases where landlords have not been educated or savvy enough to make reasonable accommodation for service animals.  C’mon folks – get with the program.  It has become a veritable chant of fair housing presenters that “A service animal is not a pet”.  Have all of the pet policies your little (or big) heart desires, but remember that they often and most likely do not apply to a service animal.  And a service animal is either a working animal or one that is referred to as companion animal/ emotional support animal/ comfort animal.   Thinking about and talking about service animals, and particularly dogs, got me thinking back to an article written by the esteemed Mindy Williams, based on research assembled by Rob Foellinger.  This article is now 15 years old; I was able to put my hands on it quickly because I am a mistress of filing and organization (smug moment happening here).  The article has little to do with fair housing, but it shows how sometimes in this business we tend to do things because we have “always done them that way”.   The essence of the article (which was called “Doggone It”) was that veterinarians and dog trainers had been polled and offered their opinion on the top ten breeds that do best in apartments; only one is under 20 pounds.  And the top worst (oxymoron?) ten......
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Oh, Poo(l) - Going Off the Deep End

It may be more difficult than ever, even if you can swim, to keep your head above water in the deep end of the swimming pool, at least from a legal perspective. I am aware of at least three States (North Carolina, California and New Hampshire) where state/local authorities are attempting to apply the Americans with Disabilities Act to non-public areas of apartment communities. The ADA applies to places of public accommodation (think restaurants, movie theaters, grocery stores, as well as leasing offices) where the public comes to transact business – in our case, to see about renting an apartment. Generally the ADA does not apply, other than for the leasing office, at an apartment community (the Fair Housing Act certainly does, but that is another story). But some misguided authorities are saying that because your residents can invite guests to join them at the pool, this makes the pool "public" (many others, including folks with NAA and NMHC disagree) and are imposing now (as in "must have accomplished" in the next weeks) a requirement that apartment communities install pool lifts to allow folks with disabilities to be able to get into the pool. You ought to find out what may be going on in your area, and get your attorneys and your apartment associations involved - ASAP. Left unaddressed this issue could become "status quo" and thus you could find yourself with a significant, unbudgeted, unplanned expense, coming at you fast like a wave (I know, pools usually do not......
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The Two New Words in Your Fair Housing Vocabularly: "Uh Oh"

A few weeks back I posted here at MFI about the two most important words in Fair Housing for this year – disparate impact.  I shared that the Supreme Court would be hearing a case (Gallagher v. Magner) this spring (it was actually scheduled for arguments on February 29th)  and would rule on whether disparate impact should be part of fair housing law.  Well, now that ain’t going to happen – the Supreme Court will not weigh in because the parties in the case have settled.   So why should you care?  Why or how will this matter to you?    Well, I went to one of my most trusted attorney sources for her take on this.  What did Terry Kitay have to say?  Here goes:  The fact that the Supreme Court won't be hearing this case means (to me) that the HUD proposed rule [on disparate impact] will become final without major edits, and there will a large spate of "discriminatory effects" cases around the country.  I've already had clients tell me they've gotten letters from various advocacy groups accusing them of disparate impact discrimination based on their policies on criminal history, failure to accept Section 8, etc.   I had alerted you with my previous post to when I wrote: The industry may not be able to require criminal background checks (just as certain protected employment groups were unintentionally impacted by the “clean shaven” policy, certain protected housing groups are more likely to have criminal backgrounds).  Could this be......
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LGBT and Roommates.com - Do they really matter?

Well, the past several days have been interesting for those of us who follow fair housing issues.  Some big decisions were made, one by HUD and one by the courts.  I geared up to write some really pithy and eloquent material for my various postings and articles.  I wanted to give tons of helpful information to those of you in property management.  And then I came to the realization that things really should not change much for you.  Here’s why: Effective March 1st, HUD-funded housing, or housing financed by HUD, must be available without regard to what you know or think is someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or marital status.  So as long as you have not been considering these factors previously (and why, pray tell, would you have been?) then nothing changes for you.  Then again, if you do have your prejudices as to the LGBT community and you work at a HUD property, it would be very wise to keep those prejudices to yourself and not act on them.  And where HUD goeth, can conventional housing be far behind?  Remember that only 3 things define a good resident – appropriate income, ability to maintain the apartment, ability to comply with your reasonable rules.  Just about everything else is irrelevant. The Roommates.com case (where fair housing folks sued the website for including forms where roommates indicated preferences related to protected classes) was heard at the appellate level and now Roommates.com is the victor.  In the opinion there is lots of juicy*......
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Fair Housing 2012 - The Two Most Important Words

Fair  I thought about holding a contest to see who might be able to come up with what I believe may be the two most important words for fair housing this year.  But being generous of heart and spirit, I am simply going to tell you the two words, and then (not so simply, but still understandably, I hope) I will explain my rationale.    Two words – disparate impact.  You, dear reader, are not an attorney so that sounds boring (I totally get it).  Why should you care?  Because those two words may result in your having to change policies and procedures at your community.  Say what!?   All right.  Let’s get the tedious part over with.  The definition of disparate impact goes like this: the adverse effect of a practice or standard that is neutral and non-discriminatory in its intention, but, nonetheless, disproportionately affects individuals who belong to a particular group that is protected under the law.  (Yawn – but please do not stop reading!)   An example:  Many years ago, it was a standard of many businesses that employees were required to be “clean-shaven” – no facial hair whatsoever.  This was a policy that was “neutral and non-discriminatory” because it was applied to everyone – no particular group of people was told “you can’t have facial hair”, everyone was told that.  Now I share two more words with you: pseudofolliculitis barbae (not to be confused with “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”).This is most common on the male face; after being shaved off,......
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What's Your Bedtime?

When do you have to go to bed?  Well, maybe you don’t have a bedtime, but do you have a curfew?  Who is the boss of you anyway? The topic of curfews comes up in my fair housing classes (notice the segue here – ahem) when I am speaking to the issue of reasonable v. unreasonable rules for children at apartment communities.  I remind attendees that children are not a protected class (brats aren’t either, BTW), but that the adults, with whom children live, are protected from housing discrimination based on familial status (having a child under the age of 18).  Then I cover the rules that are likely OK for a landlord to impose on children (in my mind, there are only 3).  Often during that dialogue someone raises their hand and asks about curfews, as in “Isn’t it OK to have a curfew for children?”. I usually respond by asking what time they require the Koreans to come in, or perhaps the Baptists, to make my point.  Then I am assailed (it is not easy being a fair housing teacher) with comments.  “The county has a curfew.”  (Yep, it does – for public, not private property.  Can the sheriff arrest you for having your child playing in the back yard late in the evening?)  “Kids damage the property.”  (Yep, sometimes they do.  But your curfew means that you are fine with damage at the property as long as it is done by someone older than 18.)  “Kids are at......
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Anyone Else Sick of Ignorance? - EDITED AS TO NOT OFFEND OR MISLEAD ANYONE

Now, I will be the first to tell you that sometimes, P.C. goes just a tad too far.  When we are having full national campaigns to eradicate a word...Let me just say, sometimes its just silly.  But this post isn't about being politically correct. I experienced something this morning that was exclusion-ism at it's finest. And, it was merely from an email.  An email sent out with good intentions to all our residents and vendors which simply said, "From all of us at 1st Lake Properties, Happy Holidays." Here is the reply I received from a resident below: 1st Lake,  Thank you for your well wishes this Christmas Season. I certainly appreciate the sentiment. However, I am quite offended that you have chosen to refrain from the customary phrase "Merry Christmas." It seems that you have chosen to attempt to not offend a small group of people while severely offending the vast majority of Americans (see the latest Rasmussen Report that states that 70% prefer "Merry Christmas"). I sincerely hope that in the future, 1st Lake will again choose to honor the majority of Americans by also celebrating one of our national holidays and saying "Merry Christmas." Again, I do want to say thank you for the well wishes and I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/lifestyle/holidays/november_2011/70_prefer_merry_christmas_over_happy_holidays_on_store_signs I am not sure this resident realizes he is just fighting to exclude all other religions just to see his own preference in a simple email.  And as a customer......
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