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Housing and Criminal Background

Housing and criminal background checks are done to protect the safety and well being of others on the property. In todays climate where we have so many reasons for being taken to court I am looking for debate on the law and fairness. Fair housing laws change and these changes come about because of cases where there are wrongs that need to be righted.I got into a debate with a legal person about felons with violent and non violent crimes who have done their time and housing and do the current laws discriminate against folks that have served their time and now trying to get their lives back on track? Do the current laws assist them in getting back into society or stack the deck against them where they end up back in a life of crime?There are those that overlook felony convictions that are not violent, sexual, or drug related because they say the non violent cases do not pose a safety concern to the other tenants. There are others that say hey no matter violent or not, they are a felon that is it, and I am not taking a chance.Every once in a while I may throw something in playing devil's advocate after a comment. Now there are those who will see something written and you have to keep in mind that there are some differences by states where felons are concerned such as Florida and California as an example in laws that govern felons. So when someone......
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Do You Hear What I Hear? Do You See What I See?

Aha!  Now that Christmas carol is an earworm for you!  (Although that was not my true intent for this post.)    Historically I have written about linguistic profiling (when we profile folks not from what we see but by how they sound).  Now it is time to share with you the latest (and for our industry, not-so-greatest) issue of profiling which I saw coming (ahem) – name profiling through email.     A recently published paper (footnote credits at the end of this post) comes to its conclusion based on statistics and algorithms (someday I must learn what an algorithm is; is that, like, when Al Gore invented the internet?).  That conclusion is that the issue of name-profiling in the context of race (black and white) goes beyond simply ignoring the emails from those perceived to be black.  Here’s the shorthand version of the 24 pages including tables and detailed analysis: Test emails inquiring about renting were sent (same day, same time, to same Craigslist posting, similar inquiry) using “black names” and “white names” culled from the Massachusetts birth certificate data from 1974 to 1979 (thus the “prospect” would be 30+ years of age).  The names had a statistically high likelihood of being associated with just one race.  The first names used to represent white prospects were Brad, Brendan, Brett, Matthew, Neil, Geoffrey, Todd, Greg and Jay.  The names used as to African-American home-seekers were Darnell, Hakim, Jamal, Jermaine, Kareem, Leroy, Rasheed, Tremayne and Tyrone.  The same process was used to......
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The Non-Synonymity of Handicapped and Accessible

Fair Housing WheelchairGood grief – the title of this blog sounds like an article in a boring math journal.  Hopefully I can manage to make this not a boring fair housing blog.  I’ll try to do that by making this entry a brief one. Question – should you be using the universal wheelchair symbol -     - in your advertising? Answer – it depends!  (Yea, we lawyers try never to give a clear and concise answer.) On what does it depend?  It depends on whether you really have handicapped apartments! (Duh)  Handicapped apartments are not the same as accessible apartments.  Handicapped apartments are those which have been built expressly for people with disabilities (PWDs).  You are well aware when you are in one of these units – kitchen counter heights, the bathrooms, and the closet rods are only some of the many clues.  Accessible units are required for all (each and every!) ground floor or elevator-reachable units in communities built for occupancy on or after March 13, 1991 when 4 or more non-townhome units are under one roof.  The wider doorways, the door latches (rather than knobs), lower thermostats, usable kitchens and bathrooms and other design features make it possible for certain PWDs to manage, yet TABs (temporarily able-bodied) can manage just fine as well.  Thus, by law (as in the Fair Housing Act) those of you at 1991+ properties should have accessible units.  But they are not handicapped units, so do not use the logo!  If you use the logo when you do......
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Fair Housing Factoids #2 - Word Search

Last year I shared a word search with you and I thought I would be fun to do so again. Let me know if you get stumped.  One important hint: just because you find a particular word, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is an answer!  Have fun…   Z Z D D B H D E L B A S I D H S E I N O L E F N S N H M E O P A R K I N G A O L E O A I A S F R H S Q D T I I V R Y G R G W H E T A E N G A E S M H D G T A M N C D A I M S E N T I T Y H Y A C J V L E R S Z J N O E M V C L T E E E B Y A M G N S O K I S P L R A L W A Y S N L V J L T N E G N I S A E L A N W L P A J R F I F T E E N C N E M P R I R J L G B T C C G G O V A B I I N R H Q T T A Y O Q N E S T......
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ADA - And we ain't talking dentists...

This post is meatier and juicier than many of my others (perhaps I am thinking about that turkey to come in the next few days – Happy Thanksgiving BTW from someone who well knows the blessings in her life).  Hang with me here, as many of you will be surprised, particularly as to the third issue below (c’mon – read the first two, too).   It is not unusual for me to be asked questions about the Americans with Disabilities Act, or to hear folks in the multifamily housing industry refer to the ADA when they really mean the FHA – Fair Housing Act.  Yet these two significant pieces of federal legislation are vastly different.  The irony is that where you might think the ADA would apply at apartment communities, it doesn’t; but where you might not think of it at all, there it is.  So here are 3 tidbits for you (the end result likely being that either I will have clarified for you or confused you more):   You do not have “ADA accessible” apartments (there is no such thing!) nor is it likely your pool “must comply with ADA”.  This is because the ADA is for places of public accommodation and the FHA impacts housing.  [Usually the one and only place of public accommodation at your community will be the leasing office (where the public comes to do business with you – i.e. learn about and possibly apply to rent apartments) and hence (I love using words like......
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Go Team! - What's Your Game Plan?

A big player (note the sports theme evolving here) in our industry recently settled a fair housing lawsuit for allegedly not responding properly to a request for reasonable accommodation by a person with a disability (PWD).  Part of the settlement involved the company agreeing to implement policies to avoid such mishap in the future; perhaps those can serve as a game plan for others as well.  Here are the requirements: When a property manager or owner receives a request for an accommodation from a PWD, the manager or owner must take steps to communicate with the PWD and identify whether or not it is reasonable to provide the accommodation. Coach’s Tip:  [Note that I would be the Coach since I am the one writing this blog.]  Make sure your team members (groundskeepers, housekeepers, leasing staff, maintenance staff) know to report to their property manager or owner anything that even remotely would suggest that it is a request for reasonable accommodation by a PWD.   This is not the time to punt! The company will make immediate changes ensuring that all reasonable accommodation requests are responded to within 10 business days. Coach’s Tip: The company involved here is large; if they can make this happen in 10 business days, so can you.  Making it longer would not be a strategic move. There will be the mandatory use of a centralized computer database to record relevant dates. Coach’s Tip:  Your company many not be large enough to need a computer database, but there are......
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The "Whiny" Other Resident - Reasonable Accommodation

When I teach about reasonable accommodations for persons with disabilities, we talk about "whiny neighbors" - those folks who want to know why someone has an animal that is not pet policy compliant, or why they have a reserved parking space. I always advise not to say "it is a service animal" or "they have a disability", but rather to say something along the lines of "That person has that because, as always, this company/owner complies with the law."   While I always thought that to be a good response, it raised the question for many as to what should be the response when the next question is "Oh, yeah.  What law is that?"   I believe I am a good teacher; I also believe that a good teacher is always willing to learn.  I am fortunate to have a number of fine people in my “fair housing circle” to whom I can turn for insight and input.  So I posed to them the question: “If the whiny neighbor is persistent, what is the best thing to say at this point to, quite frankly, shut that person up?”  Now I admit that was not the most eloquent way to position my inquiry, but I did get back what I think is an excellent answer from D.J. Ryan with the law firm of Kimball, Tirey and St. John (I consider D.J. a friend as well as a colleague).  So a big thanks to D.J. for suggesting this response: “We don’t disclose private information......
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Stealing a moment of your time...

…and if that theft results in a felony conviction, will you still rent to me?  Will you even have a choice?  This is just a quick update on the issue of criminal screenings (see my previous “I Told You Sold” and “Crime and Punishment” blog entries).  The October 2011 issue of NAA’s Units has an excellent article by Erik Taylor entitled “Proposal to Limit Criminal Screenings on the Rise” – that title says it all.  Read it and learn about the “Ban-the-Box” movement.  And an article in Fair Housing News (a publication of the JMLS Fair Housing Legal Support Center) speaks about their August conference on ex-offender housing discrimination. One of the plans is “to begin collecting data that can show how arrest records, stale conviction records or convictions are being used to discriminate in housing choices”.  Think about this statement made in the article:  “Blanket protections in the name of public safety sweep too broadly and may be shown to be a pretext for discrimination based on race, national origin, or even disability…(Michael Seng).  As an industry we will not be able to say we were blindsided by this – have you considered making any changes in your criminal background rental policies?

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(Almost) Always Get It in Writing

As an attorney (although not yours, DBL – Dear Blog Reader) I regularly tell folks to “get it in writing”.  I have even been known to shriek at some poor soul, “What, you didn’t get it in writing?!”  And it is a pretty routine requirement for property management folks to tell their residents that all work orders have to be in writing.  This helps avoid the problems that can occur when residents see the maintenance professionals or other community staff and ask to have things done without routing the issue through the proper channels.  And there is nothing wrong with that policy except (and you knew there would be an exception!) when an oral communication is not just a work order request, but a request for reasonable accommodation made by a person with a disability.  If you think this is the case, then don’t ignore a request just because it is oral (over the phone or in person); you should write down your understanding of what is being asked for and then verify with the person that you have understood correctly.  In exchange for this helpful tidbit (which was not legal advice), now I’d like you to do two things.  First, share this information with all on-site folks, including maintenance.  Second, tell your folks that when in doubt (could it be a work order v. could it be a reasonable accommodation request) to always decide it is likely the latter.  A bit more hassle for on-site folks? Perhaps.  A lot less......
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With this ring...

I was recently told about a situation whereby a married couple applied for an apartment…one spouse had a credit score of 550 and the other had a credit score of 475.  The rental policy at the community states that anyone with a score of less than 500 will not qualify to live at the community, but there is one exception to that policy - in the case of a married couple only one credit score must be over 500.  Roommates however (even “friends with benefits”) do not qualify for this exception.   The question was whether this could create any fair housing issues, and the answer is that this policy could be an issue in those locations (State or local) where marital status has been deemed a protected class for housing.  In that case this policy would be found to unlawfully discriminate against the roommates (FWBs or otherwise) simply because they are not married.  So wisdom would dictate that if you have policies based on “marital status” that you find out what the protected classes are for your community (not just the federally protected classes, but the State and local ones, too) and make sure that your credit score policy (well, all of your policies actually) comply with the law.   I learn something every day.  And I have just learned that at some communities being “friends with benefits” does not confer any benefit at all when it comes to rental applicant approval. (Although how many FWBs entered into the relationship......
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