Fair Housing & Phone Calls – Ensuring Compliance
In today’s rapidly-evolving digital landscape, it’s easy to overlook the significance of traditional forms of communication, such as phone calls, in the day-to-day operations of leasing offices. While email and messaging services have become prevalent, phone calls remain an indispensable aspect of effective leasing-office management. However, property management professionals must remain vigilant about the potential fair housing implications associated with phone calls and the importance of handling them meticulously to prevent any violations.
Busy Leasing Office vs. Fair Housing Testers
Leasing offices often experience a whirlwind of activity, with multiple individuals vying for attention simultaneously. Amidst this flurry of tasks and interactions, it is all too easy to make inadvertent mistakes that can potentially lead to fair housing violations, and fair housing testers are banking on this.
Fair housing testing, which seeks to uncover discriminatory practices, predominantly takes place over the phone due to its cost-effectiveness and ability to reach a wide range of properties. Consequently, every phone call becomes an opportunity to showcase compliance with fair housing guidelines and avoid inadvertently engaging in discriminatory behaviors.
Let’s consider a few common scenarios that leasing agents are presented with on a daily basis that, if not handled properly, could lead to a fair housing claim.
Who Should You Help First
As referenced above, we all know how incredibly busy a leasing office can be. So what should you do if you are on a call with a prospect who is inquiring about availability when another person walks in and is staring right at you? It might be tempting to ask the person on the phone if you can call them back, but this can lead to potential problems.
What if the person on the phone falls under a protected category while the person in front of you does not? What if the person that just walked in is also interested in availability? Either case could appear discriminatory if not handled correctly. A best practice would be to place your caller on a brief hold so you can explain to the in-person prospect that you will be right with them and assist them according to the order that you made initial contact.
A question we often get is: How can someone claim discrimination if I can’t even see them? It is essential to recognize that fair housing violations and discrimination claims can emerge from phone calls, even when the caller remains unseen. Subtle cues, such as foreign-sounding last names or accents, can be utilized by fair housing testers in an attempt to provoke or fabricate a basis for racial discrimination claims.
Similarly, individuals can assert fair housing violation claims based on disabilities through phone calls without any face-to-face interaction. For example, a person may have a speech impediment or use a relay service to communicate. Both of which indicate that you are speaking with a potentially disabled individual. It is crucial to approach these calls with sensitivity, ensuring that the caller’s unique needs are fully understood and effectively addressed.
Discussing Policies – Consistency Is Key
Another common phone call that we handle in our leasing offices is inquiries into the property’s policies. When individuals inquire about property management policies over the phone, effective and consistent communication is of utmost importance. Ensuring that every staff member responding to inquiries has easy access to the office’s policy is a best practice. In cases where uncertainties arise, seeking guidance from a supervisor is highly recommended. Consistency in conveying information not only demonstrates professionalism but also minimizes the risk of potential fair housing pitfalls.
In conclusion, ensuring that property management professionals are well-versed in handling phone calls appropriately and adept at addressing a diverse range of inquiries is paramount. Achieving this proficiency requires comprehensive fair housing training programs and engaging in practical role-playing exercises. By prioritizing fair housing compliance and fostering a culture of sensitivity and inclusivity, leasing offices can minimize the risk of fair housing violations and provide equal opportunities to all prospective tenants.
Source: Fair Housing Institute