One aspect of great interest to apartment owners associations is how to avoid discrimination accusations. The staff needs to formally be trained to conduct certain interviews and meetings exactly the same way every time, with every applicant. This creates a no-fault procedure, because everyone is treated the same, and the same information is given out to everyone. There have been many instances over the past few decades where “good intentions” were misunderstood and led to discrimination suits.
Train Your Apartment Management and Staff
Over the past three decades, property owners and association managers have been held accountable for the actions or words of their employees due to lack of full training in the changing dynamics of Fair and Equal Housing Opportunity Laws. Apartment management teams are training every employee from those in rental administration to maintenance workers and housekeeping with limited interaction with applicants and renters, but still are considered agents of the property ownership.
Employees in the residential industry at all levels must fully understand the implications of discrimination restrictions, when interacting with people of all protected classes in regard to race, skin color, religion, national origin, ancestry, sexual orientation – including LGBT, gender, age disability, marital status, children or family size, source of income, status of recipients of public assistance, past involvement in a discrimination complaint, or family status.
What Not to ask During Tenant Screening
In the process of the screening of rental applicants, landlords and their staff can be in particular jeopardy with any slip of the tongue. Even if the applicant first brings up circumstances about their disability, pending divorce, or number of children in their household, listen intently – but do not ask for further information.
As a real estate agent or apartment association employee, never offer to provide accommodations for disability help, before requested to do so. Landlords are required to make reasonable alterations for persons with disabilities, but to offer before they are requested, is subject to a possible claim of discrimination.
An example of this would be asking or assuming that an elderly person would need a grab bar in the shower or bath, or that a person with a mobility disability needs a parking space closest to the residence. Wait for the applicant to ask for these amenities, before the subject is breached.
Property managers and owners must train every employee, at all levels, that their actions as employees reflect management. Owners are held accountable for what their employees say and do, in the eyes of Fair Housing Laws.
What Is Steering?
An industry term, steering, is of critical interest in some areas of discrimination complaints. Steering is when someone controls information to try to guide someone in making a certain decision. It isn’t smart to stress that some older buildings may have lead paint, in the hope that parents won’t want their children to live their. It is also discrimination to tell some people about some available units and other people about other units.
For example, unless a prospective tenant states they prefer to be on the first floor only, or some other specific preference, be sure all applicants get to see all available units to decide for themselves which one they want. Some landlords mistakenly thought that because they rented to all people, who applied and demonstrated they could afford to pay the rent, they were not discriminating against anyone. Unfortunately, they found out in court that they were guilty of discrimination due to steering.
According to the Fair Housing Laws, it is discrimination to segregate people in certain areas of a building. Unless you give families the right to choose, it is not ok to show them only units available near other families with children. It is discrimination to show all people of one race or skin color, units in one area of a building, or homes only on certain streets. Such practices do not represent equal treatment. The safest way to stay out of trouble is to treat all applicants in the exact same way. Show everyone all available units, even though it takes more time for everyone, and discuss the same things with everyone.
For more information on how apartment owners associations are warning property owners and managers to train all their staff, contact us at The American Apartment Owners Association online: www.AAOA.com.