In this episode of The Fair Housing Insiders, we covered the following topics:
- How do policies and procedures relate to Fair Housing?
- Should only large property management companies have a policy and procedure program?
- I am a small property management company. Where do I start with a policy and procedure program?
- How do you communicate your policies and procedures to your employees?
- What policies should every housing company have?
- What are the most common issues and mistakes that housing providers make?
- What are some tips for people who are new to the housing industry?
The Fair Housing Insiders – Episode 5 Show Notes and Resources
How do policies and procedures relate to Fair Housing?
So one of the reasons, one of the more important reasons, is to make sure that everybody knows what the appropriate policies are and that they were following them and that they documented that they followed them during the time they were taking the action. So because of that I’ve realized many times, too many times, that my clients really were not prepared with the necessary written fair housing policies and procedures that they should have been.
Should only large property management companies have a policy and procedure program?
It absolutely applies to all housing providers. If you have five units or 5,000 units, you need an established, written policy when it comes to fair housing matters so that you can train your employees, because there’s lots of turnover, and then you can use those policies to ensure consistency in behavior. And also defend yourself if you are one of the unlucky housing providers, and there are lots of them, who get challenged on something claiming that there was a fair housing violation.
I am a small property management company. Where do I start with a Fair Housing policy and procedure program?
Well, there are a lot of resources to obtain the policies. For one thing, the policies are really not that complicated. For instance, a fair housing policy can be one paragraph long, but it is almost the first thing that is always asked during an investigation of a fair housing complaint is, where is your fair housing policy?
And it’s amazing how many companies don’t have that. So where do you get those? Luckily, we have the wonderful resource of the internet nowadays. And so if you look around, you’ll probably find a very well written fair housing policy. Again, it doesn’t have to be complicated or lengthy, that you can find there.
The housing associations also usually have those for their members. So if you are, and I hope you are, a member of some type of your industry associations, then that’s another source. And of course, I always have to mention that lawyers have these policies and procedures that they’ve written for their clients and they have them available. So you can always check with your attorney to see if they can provide you with that kind of thing.
How do you communicate your policies and procedures to your employees?
There should be a policy notebook where all the policies of all types are located. And in that notebook, there’s a section on fair housing policies. And in that area, you have a fair housing policy. You have a reasonable accommodation policy, which includes written procedures for how to address reasonable accommodation requests.
And then there’s also forms, which are not necessarily policies, but an important part for implementing the reasonable accommodation policies. So all of those are located in one area of that policy notebook.
What policies should every housing company have?
So I think we should begin with a basic fair housing policy. It should be titled that. It doesn’t need to be that lengthy or involved.
Then there should be a reasonable accommodation policy, and that should describe both reasonable accommodations and reasonable modifications. The general policy that’s involved for handling those and then the procedures that are followed for each request for an accommodation or modification.
Along with that, and related to that, I suggest that there is a list of designations of authority for who in the company, in the property, can make the various decisions that need to be made when we are addressing a request for reasonable accommodation.
What are the most common issues and mistakes that housing providers make?
One of the biggest problems I see is when staff people who are, for instance, the manager of the property, is approached by a resident who is asking for a reasonable accommodation, but doing it in such a way that it’s not clear, whether it is related to their disability or not.
And the manager, instead of finding out whether this is a request for a reasonable accommodation, just shuts it down by saying, “Well, we don’t do that. That’s not what we do. We have a policy and that’s not in accordance with our policy.” So, that’s a huge issue.
And again, in the procedures of how to address a reasonable accommodation, it should be clearly stated that no one discourages a request for a reasonable accommodation. That instead, each and every request, once it’s clarified that it is a request, is accepted into the process. That does not mean that it is going to be granted, what that means is it’s going to be processed.
And the most important the thing is that all requests be processed. And along with that process, comes the documentation at each stage. All of which is going to defend that property if the resident eventually is dissatisfied with the outcome and therefore files a fair housing complaint.
What are some tips for people who are new to the housing industry?
Well, we live in a great time to have resources available to us. And I would advise folks who are new to the industry to take advantage of that. There are all kinds of informational videos, like the one we’re doing today, that new professionals can take advantage of.
There are online fair housing training courses. There are all kinds of live training courses that are provided by the housing associations. So I would hope that a housing provider provides lots of training for its employees.
But for those who are new to the industry who need more than the basic fair housing background, I encourage them to take advantage and to research that on their own and to use as much of it as they possibly can, because what fair housing needs to be is just a way of thinking about how you go about your day to day business.
We often say here at FHI, that it is a way to be rather than a thing to do. And for it to become that, you really have to think about the practical day to day interactions that happen with applicants, with prospects, people on the phone, your residents that you’re interacting with and how fair housing might be involved with those conversations and what that means for how you should be interacting, what you should be saying, the attitude you should be taking. So there’s a lot to learn for the folks who are new.