Telephone fair housing training is a key component for the compliance department in multifamily. Apartment rental offices receive many telephone calls each day. Questions such as: Are there available apartments? What is your screening criteria? and many others may be asked on any given day. How an employee answers can cause the caller to have expectations of an apartment community. These expectations may or may not be realized when that person visits or makes application. Any contradictions in information may be assumed to be a result of housing discrimination. For example, one of the most common issues occurs when a tester calls and is told there are available two bedroom apartments. When the tester arrives at the apartment community the next day, he is told there are no available apartments.
How can this risk be managed? Employees who answer the telephone must be careful to convey only accurate information. They must also explain that the information is accurate only for that specific time. For example, how would you answer the question, “Do you have any two bedroom apartments available?” We suggest something like, “Today we are showing an available two-bedroom apartment, but we never know how long that availability will continue because someone could put down a deposit on that apartment later today.”
Best Practices When Answering The Phone
The best way to prevent a violation of Fair Housing laws when answering questions asked on the telephone is to ensure that all persons who answer the telephone at your community are fully trained. For example, there may be some answers that should be read from a printed sheet. This ensures both consistency and accuracy in the answer. In some circumstances, employees might be instructed not to answer questions at all. Rather, they can take a message and have another, more experienced, employee return the call. Telephone fair housing training should include topics basic to good marketing principles. It should also include an explanation on how to answer the following questions involving the three most important Fair Housing related topics:
- availability, with an explanation of the fact that availability can quickly change;
- screening criteria, with a careful limitation on who can explain criteria and how the criteria is explained;
- resident population, with a careful wording of how such questions should be answered.