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!
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