Fair Housing Testing: It's Happening Near You, Right Now

Posted by Stephen Marshall on

Those of you subscribe to my newsletter already know this, but there is a new group that is conducting Fair Housing testing on a fairly widespread basis in central Kentucky. Fair Housing Advocates, Inc., is an organization out of Arlington, Texas, who, according to their website, provides advocacy and education related to Fair Housing issues. Here is their website and their Facebook page. 

Currently, their testers are calling apartment complexes throughout central Kentucky claiming to be interested in renting an apartment. Their current ruse is to claim to be a disabled person with an Assistance Animal (typically an emotional support animal), and to probe the apartment representative about the details of the property’s policy on Assistance Animals. The biggest issue seems to be whether the property allows disabled tenants to take their Assistance Animals into common areas such as the pool area, fitness centers, business centers, etc. They will typically make clear that the Assistance Animal is a Pit Bull or some other dangerous breed. If they do not get the “right” answer in response to this question, they proceed to file a Housing Discrimination Complaint with the local Human Rights Commission. I’m currently aware of at least seven such complaints having been filed.

As I’ve noted numerous times, testing has been ruled to be permissible and the details of the test are often admissible as evidence in court. The details are certainly considered during the investigations of the complaint by the Human Rights Commission. Testers typically record their phone calls.

I have no problem with testing. In fact, I highly recommend that properties conduct self-testing on all aspects of Fair Housing law to see if their team is sufficiently knowledgeable and able to adequately apply what has been learned in Fair Housing training. Groups like Fair Housing Advocates, Inc., send property management teams back to high school. There is a test and they will be graded. Unfortunately, there is no reward for a good grade, but there are severe consequences for failing. This group does not seek to clarify the company’s policy by discussing with upper management, they don’t seek to educate when a new leasing agent communicates a response poorly, and they don’t look for areas of common ground, even though there is no harm to any tangible victim during the test. They look for a wrong answer and then file a complaint.

So, there is no time to waste. You must get your teams trained and make them aware of the testing. There is an old saying in the law that everyone has a Will: either the one they make or the one the government makes for them in the law.Likewise, your staff is likely going to get trained in Fair Housing law. It will either be on the front end by you, or as a result of a Housing Discrimination Complaint against them.

Here are some suggested steps:

1. Obviously, make sure everyone on your team receives Fair Housing training before they start their job. My blogs can help you dig deeper on some issues, but everyone needs a basic survey in Fair Housing law before they begin. 

2. As a band aid, make sure your staff lets every caller about these issues know that:

  • your property has no breed, size, or weight restrictions on Assistance Animals
  • you charge no upfront fees or costs on Assistance Animals, and
  • Assistance Animals are allowed in the pool areas, fitness centers, business centers, etc., but that Lexington has a public health ordinance that prohibits animals from being in swimming pools, but not in pool areas.

3. Make sure your staff does not multi-task when answering phone calls. While we are able to multi-task, we cannot multi-focus. Lack of attention to detail on these calls can result in a complaint being filed.

4. Instruct your staff not to guess at answers. If they are not certain about the proper response, they should say so, get a number to return the call, and ask a supervisor. It is much less embarrassing to ask a supervisor a question than to give a wrong answer and get sued. 

When in doubt, call your friendly local attorney. Good luck!

P.S, If you want to hear things like this ASAP, subscribe to my newsletter by entering your e-mail address below. 

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  • Hi, I rcvd ESA letter from tenant, checked into it. Therapist has Ky license, but lists Cinci, OH as place of her practice. ESA letter was not signed, not on therapist’s letterhead, no address. Website that tenant purchased ESA letter from- lists an address that is a vacant lot with no improvements. I requested more info from tenant and tenant told me to contact the therapist. I sent 14 day letter, and tenant got a lawyer. I asked tenant and lawyer for proof of appointments, times, dates, length of appointment during last 12 months. Tenant filed complaint w human relations commission. In response to my request, the lawyer filed a countersuit filled with lies about how I had willfully done all of these illegal things. Lawsuit threatened 3 months worth of rent as legal penalty. Lawsuit even claimed that I had cashed Jan and Feb rent checks, which is untrue. The rent checks are in escrow at my attorney’s office. I felt threatened and decided to drop the case. Once I prove to Human Relations Commission that I have done nothing wrong, I’m going to file a complaint w the Ky bar against the lawyer, and I will probably file a complaint to Ky licensing commission for mental health professionals vis a vis the Therapist who is part of this scam.
    Most of this situation was handled by me w/o a lawyer. Almost all communication w tenant and tenant’s lawyer was by email. I can prove everything that I have stated here to you. Quite frankly, I’m not a lawyer, but I think that the tenant’s attorney has used intimidation and false accustations and willfully false claims against me in the countersuit. I think he’s going to get his comeuppance. Once I get cleared by the Human Relations Commission, I will proceed will contact the Ky Bar w my complaints against the lawyer and I’ll probably advise you of same. I am a meticulous keeper of documention and I am meticulous about what I say and don’t say to a tenant or renant’s lawyer. Almost none of any communication was verbal. All written, by email or certified letter. Frankly, I can’t understand how a lawyer would ever want to do what this lawyer has done to me.

    Bob Webb on
  • I added you, Rebekah. Thanks.

    Stephen Marshall on
  • Please include my email for your newsletters Thanks

    Rebekah Marshall on
  • I added you last week, Becky. Thanks.

    Stephen Marshall on
  • Stephen, can you add me to the newsletter list? Thanks!!

    Becky Engholm on

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