In today’s highly competitive rental market, effective advertising is crucial to attracting the right renters. But for these very same reasons, your advertising and marketing practices can get you into fair housing hot water. The advertising media you select and the message you craft may be illegally exclusive. While it can be direct and intentional—No children … Christian community … Not suitable for the disabled (which, regrettably, come from actual ads)—discriminatory advertising can also be far more subtle, so much so that it’s easy to cross the line without intending to.
This month’s lesson will help you keep your advertising and marketing practices within the bounds of fair housing laws. First, we’ll explain the fair housing advertising laws. Then, we’ll outline a strategy that will work for any landlord, whether its marketing consists of simple lawn signs, digital ads on social media websites, or anything in between.
HUD recently announced that it has approved a Conciliation/Voluntary Compliance Agreementbetween the Housing Authority of Maricopa County, in Mesa, Ariz., and one of its residents who has a mental health disability. Under the agreement, the housing authority will pay $10,000 to the tenant and provide fair housing training for its employees who work with the public. The housing authority will also vacate the tenant’s eviction and waive the $3,516 eviction judgment that had been entered against her.
“Retaliation” is a fancy word for revenge. It’s a nasty action that you take to get back at somebody for doing something bad to you. In the context of fair housing, retaliation means an unfavorable action a landlord takes like rejecting a rental applicant or evicting a tenant because he complains about discrimination or exercises any of his other rights under discrimination laws.
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.
MHCO Note: Rent in arrears has become a large problem for community owners as we move out of the COVID-19 crisis. There has been a lot of media on executive orders banning evictions for nonpayment of rent and grace periods for residents who are falling behind in their rent payments. There has been less attention paid to the resources that are available for residents and community owners. Here is some information from Oregon Housing and Community Services and an example of from Lane County on the type of services currently available. The STARR program has access by county and can be very helpful for tapping local resources. Please make sure that your residents are aware of these programs – the resident needs to apply but the check typically goes direct to the community owner. There is nothing in Oregon statute that prevents you from providing this information to your residents - you just cannot be threatening ('if you don't apply I am going to evict you'). You might find these programs provide some ‘breathing room’ as we wait for the Landlord Compensation Fund to get back up and running.
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.