The Fair Housing future has a lot in store for us. What is on the Fair Housing horizon? For property management professionals this is an important question. We can never sit on our hands when it comes to Fair Housing compliance. So what have we learned from the previous year and what can we expect moving into this new year?
Emotional Support Animals
This past year saw an incredible amount of news when it comes to emotional support animals. All kinds of questions were raised, and there were lots of settlements and determinations against housing providers who denied an applicant or resident’s emotional support animal.
Is a peacock an emotional support animal? Is a squirrel an emotional support animal? Should a housing provider expect the applicant/resident to provide a certification for an emotional support animal? Can a family doctor prescribe an emotional support animal? And the list can go on and on.
Is a squirrel an emotional support animal?
So where do we stand? This is a fair housing topic that will continue to generate a lot of interest within the property management industry. And don’t forget there are states who are attempting to provide clearer guidance through statutes of the requirements around assistance animals.
State and Local Protected
It behooves all of us to really pay attention to what is going on within the state and local level. While disability is a federally protected category, it is also a state and local protected category in many jurisdictions throughout our country. The topic of emotional support animals will continue to generate plenty of attention due to the fact that there is an increasing awareness of mental health challenges in our society. It is part of the Fair Housing future.
With such attention will come an ever increasing number of requests for emotional support animals. Many of these requests will be legitimate, and unfortunately, the increased attention also results in an increasing number of fraudulent requests.
Your office staff may not have dealt with this topic as much as they are now. You can’t be caught off guard. There are certain questions they should not ask of a resident and there are certain ways to word questions.
Your team needs to be educated on what is legitimate and what is not. They should always be on guard for the fair housing tester who walks into the office, calls on the telephone, or contacts staff via social media and asks whether he/she can move in with a very large dog. How staff answers this question can be the basis for a fair housing challenge. This is a very sensitive matter and is worthy of constant training to prepare staff for these questions.
We can only expect this topic to continue to make the news. To be prepared for the Fair Housing future, it is more important than ever to make sure your team is well educated.
Sexual Harassment Prevention
The #metoo movement brought a lot of attention to sexual harassment and the prevention of such. This movement has also brought attention to other forms of harassment that are directly related to other protected categories other than “sex”.
What are you doing to address these? Are you showing your team how to spot a potential sexual harassment violation and the actions that should result? Are you showing your team how to prevent these situations from turning into expensive lawsuits?
Are you keeping an eye on how the ADA is getting involved with website compliance? What about topics such as whether increasing the internet speed for disabled residents in your communities may be a reasonable accommodation? You need to be proactive. Don’t wait. Mitigate before you have to litigate. Your Fair Housing future depends on it.
More of the Same
Unfortunately, we also saw more of the same in 2018. Topics such as criminal background checks, denying housing based on how many bedrooms compared with how many people in the household, no children policies, reasonable accommodation violations, and many more.
All of these can be avoided. Make the time available for your team to take fair housing training. Reinforce that training with follow up sessions. In other industries we often see companies hold meetings where the question is asked: “What could we do better?” or “What were our near misses?”
What were our near misses
Fair Housing Future
So that’s a wrap. Fair Housing should never be a check the box line item for the property management industry. The Fair Housing future will always look positive if we do our part. Keep in touch with how local, state, and federal regulations may be changing. Find ways to provide practical application of Fair Housing fundamentals for your team. Our combined efforts will continue to raise the professionalism bar of our industry and provide equal opportunity housing for all.