Fair Housing Or Personal Security?
An employee’s safety and personal security usually should take precedence over fair housing concerns.
Working in the field of residential real estate can be very rewarding. Whether you’re involved in sales, leasing, or maintenance, you can also face risks. We’ve all heard the frightening stories of on-site employees or real estate agents who have been attacked while doing their jobs. Good personal security practices can greatly reduce the risk of such incidents. But what happens when your personal security practices force you to treat people differently so that you’re concerned about your fair housing compliance?
First, keep in mind that your personal security and safety is the most important concern. If it came down to a choice between protecting yourself from physical harm or violating the Fair Housing Act, even the most aggressive advocate would agree that you should protect yourself.
Second, protecting yourself does not mean denying housing opportunities to people. You can have policies in place to ensure your safety, and still minimize the risk that someone will file a fair housing complaint against you.
What is the most common scenario where there is the potential for conflict between safety concerns and fair housing practices? When a leasing consultant is working alone and is asked by a prospective resident to show an apartment. Here are some suggestions we routinely make to on-site staff facing this situation:
If the leasing consultant only works alone during certain short periods, such as an hour at the end of the day, consider adopting a policy that no apartments will be shown during that time. Of course, the leasing consultant could still give out promotional brochures and leasing information. Any prospective resident who comes in during those times could schedule an appointment to come back at a time when the office is fully staffed.
If the leasing consultant routinely works alone, consider a two-way radio system that would connect the leasing consultant to the main office, or to emergency assistance. The radio should accompany anyone who goes out on the property, and it should be plainly visible. That way, visitors know the leasing consultant is in touch with someone else.
Many companies require the presentation of photo identification prior to a property tour. If this is your company’s policy, it should be followed without exception. The original of the photo ID can be kept in a secure place during the tour, and returned to the prospective resident when he or she returns to the office following the tour. Besides the security benefit, this practice also ensures the prospective resident will return to the office for further encouragement to rent.
Take Good Notes
If at any time you feel unsafe about taking a particular prospect for a tour, trust your instincts. Offer the prospect whatever information you would make available to anyone else, and suggest that the prospect make an appointment to tour the property at another time. Make a note, being as descriptive as possible, as to what about the prospect’s visit to your office made you wary of being alone with him or her, and keep that note for at least two years.
While you would have just treated this prospect differently from other prospects, the note will support your assertion that you did so for non-discriminatory reasons. And by the way, you do not have to refuse to show apartments to anyone else that might come in for the rest of the day – you’ve made an exception to your usual policy, and you’ve justified it.
Periodically, review your notes to determine whether there’s a pattern developing. For instance, is there a particular kind of person you routinely refuse to show apartments to because you feel unsafe or uncomfortable? If so, you may be letting your personal biases interfere with your compliance with the Fair Housing Act.
Thank you for being here today. If you enjoyed this educational fair housing article, you may also enjoy: Educate Maintenance Staff About Reasonable Modification Requests