While the current law is unsettled, for landlords there’s much more at stake than what the law requires.
MHCO’s mission is to provide landlords and other community owners with a game plan to train their managers, supervisors, leasing agents, and other representatives how to spot and steer clear of rental and management practices that can lead to liability for housing discrimination. Occasionally, however, the focus switches to training home owners themselves. Training the trainer becomes particularly imperative when the topic involves a novel, rather than a familiar, liability risk.
Such is the case with tenant harassment. “Harassment has been a compliance challenge for years,” you may be thinking. But this lesson deals with a new and emerging form of harassment that traditional fair housing training doesn’t typically address—namely, discriminatory harassment committed by one tenant against another.
In celebration of Fair Housing Month, 2021, MHCO is highlighting 10 essential rules to help you to comply with fair housing law.
Housing discrimination has been outlawed for more than 50 years, but all too often communities still find themselves on the wrong side of the law and are forced to pay out thousands—and in some cases millions—in settlements or court awards, civil penalties, and attorney’s fees to get themselves out of fair housing trouble.
FOLLOW THESE 10 RULES TO AVOID FAIR HOUSING TROUBLE
Contrary to popular belief, housing segregation remains alive and well not just in specific regions of the U.S. but across America. So concluded HUD upon completing its most recent review of the state of fair housing in the U.S. “Real estate agents and rental housing providers recommend and show fewer available homes and apartments to minority families, thereby increasing their costs and restricting their housing options,” concludes the 2013 report.
The last thing you or your residents would ever want is to have murderers, rapists, drug dealers, arsonists, and other dangerous criminals in your community. And because “criminals” aren’t among the people that fair housing laws protect, it’s okay to refuse to rent to persons who have a record of committing these crimes.
Wrong! Denying housing to a person on the basis of a criminal record potentially is a form of illegal discrimination. But since the fair housing laws don’t expressly say this, too many owners and property managers fail to recognize the existence of this liability risk, let alone take steps to manage it.
So, this month’s fair housing lesson deals with the thorny and frequently misunderstood issue of criminal record discrimination in the rental process. First, we’ll explain the legal basis for holding owners liable for a form of discrimination that the fair housing laws don’t even mention. We’ll then set out eight rules to help you carry out criminal background screening of rental applicants, regardless of whether the housing property is private, government-assisted, or public, without committing discrimination.
I am a product of the 1960’s. I grew up in a middle-class bedroom community about 60 miles from Los Angeles. We had a swimming pool and each of my siblings and I had our own bedrooms. We went on family vacations in our station wagon every summer and when we returned, we attended summer day camp. When we got older, we went to “sleep away” camp. We drank water from the hose, and we played outside until the streetlights came on. We had new wardrobes for back to school and Christmas was magical. Both of my parents were present my entire life, they were both college educated and they were educators as well.
We were not wealthy. We did not live in a “certain” zip code. My parents worked ridiculously hard as schoolteachers, and when they both went back to college to pursue master’s degrees, they did so at night, taking turns on who would go when. Getting those extra degrees (my father later earned his EdD), placed them on a higher pay scale. They sacrificed to provide for us.
This is my lens that I view the world through.
Is it different than yours? Probably. But what I have found is that most of us have more in common than we do different. You would not know that in 2020 and it seems like every difference we have has been amplified and exploited. We are no longer celebrating each other; we are fighting each other. Publicly. With intolerance towards each other’s views and beliefs. It seems like ourlens is the onlyacceptable lens.
In June 2020, a court denied a Texas resident’s request for an emergency order to allow him to fence off his yard because his disability—a compromised immune system—left him vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure to passing strangers.
Given today’s volatile political climate, it’s more important than ever to be vigilant for any signs of racially motivated harassment, discrimination, or violence directed against anyone at your community.
Criminal background checks are the latest battleground for potential race discrimination claims. If it’s been a while since you last reviewed your policy, it’s important to check to make sure your policy doesn’t run afoul HUD guidelines addressing the discriminatory effect that criminal background policies may have on racial and ethnic minorities.
When showing available units in your community, refrain from any comments or conduct that suggest a prospect should—or shouldn’t—live at your community, or in a particular area within your community—because of her race or color. It’s considered “steering,” an unlawful practice under the FHA, if you direct, guide, or encourage prospects, based on an illegally discriminatory reason, to rent only certain units at a community or to seek alternate living options.