Back To Basics – What Is Fair Housing?

Why is a basic understanding of fair housing laws so important? Who needs to know them? How often should they be reviewed? This article goes back to basics to discuss what fair housing is and why it’s essential.

A woman thinking about the basics of fair housing and what they are.

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

We see a massive shift in the industry due to the labor shortage. As new people join the property management industry, it is critical that they have a working knowledge and training on how the Fair Housing Act applies to them and how they complete their job. 

To Whom Does the Fair Housing Act Apply?

There is no simple answer to this question, but to keep it basic, you could say that the Fair Housing Act applies to anybody who rents, leases, or sells any land, property, or dwelling. If you work in the property management industry, the Fair Housing Act likely applies to you at almost any level you are currently employed. Even if you are a third-party provider such as a vendor or contractor and you have contact and are interacting with residents, guests, or prospects, fair housing laws apply to you as well.

Why Does Someone Working in Property Management Need to Know About Fair Housing?

In simplest terms, a clear understanding of fair housing laws protects your job. Just as with any other type of employment, there are specific rules and protocols that affect how you complete your job. For property management professionals, this is the Fair Housing Act. 

More is needed than best intentions towards your residents or prospects. You need to know and understand fair housing-based policies and procedures to protect your company, make sure your residents have a good experience, and, again, protect yourself and your career. Not doing this can result in complaints being filed against you and a fair housing investigation launched. A fair housing investigation costs so much time and money and can result in the loss of careers. Added to that is the PR and marketing nightmare that happens due to a claim.

Which Aspects of Managing a Property Are Affected by Fair Housing?

Each and every one of them; just to varying degrees depending on the department. For example, fair housing training would be different for maintenance professionals than for someone who works in sales or accounting. Further, every employee needs to know exactly how the Fair Housing Act applies to their particular job, and this goes for all property management companies regardless of size. 

As you can see, fair housing permeates the property management industry. Every employee needs to at least know the basics and complete regular training. You can protect yourself and maintain your fair housing compliance by doing this.

Jonathan (00:12): Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 43 of the 'Fair Housing Insiders'. And today we take a trip back a little bit into a topic we haven't spoken on in a long time, and that's really just fair housing itself. The basics of fair housing. So, Michael, why are we bringing this subject back to the table today?

Michael (00:31): Jonathan, good to talk to you as always before I get started, I would like to do a quick shout out to the 2022 national championship Georgia Bulldogs. Okay? I'm a huge, huge fan. I can't help myself. I've been waiting a long time to say that out loud and saying it even over YouTube is just nice.

Jonathan (00:47): I'm sure we're gonna get YouTube comments like crazy now.

Michael (00:49): A lot of hate, Bamba fans bring on the hate in the comments. I'm fine with it. It's okay. But that has nothing to do with topic. Let's move on. So right now we're bringing it back up because I feel like there's a lot of shift in the industry right now, everybody knows that there's a labor shortage and people are changing. This is already an industry with a decent amount of turnover in it, but right now is it makes it more important than ever to make sure that everybody knows what they're talking about. Cause people are hopping in between industries, they're transferring between jobs which again, you know, has nothing to do with world we're talking about, but it's important because the training that we provide needs to be foundational for everybody. So we're kind of rewinding a little bit and talking about the basics again, just to make sure that those people that are jumping from industry to industry, those that are new into it, or maybe those that have been into the industry for a while and they just kind of need to step back and talk about this issue again.

Michael (01:42): Well, that's why we're here today.

Jonathan (01:43): Right? Yeah. Always timely, good points too. Yeah. There's lots of moving and shaking within property management these days. Absolutely. So let's get into some of our discussion points. So in your experience, who does the Fair Housing Act apply to?

Michael (02:00): Sure. Okay. That can become a very complicated, but let's just simplify it for the sake of the discussion today. The Fair Housing Act applies to anybody that rents, leases, sells any land or any property or a unit or dwelling. So if you work in the housing industry, it's, it's very, very, very, very likely that the Fair Housing Act applies to you at almost any level you're at.

Jonathan (02:27): Right. Right. And would that include like vendors, industry, partners, anyone who's doing work on site? Is that also part of that package?

Michael (02:36): Yes. That's a very good point. Yes, absolutely. Vendors, contractors, if they're on the property, if they're interacting with residents or guests or prospects or, you know, even in the the real estate industry. Yes. Those all apply.

Jonathan (02:49): Okay. Okay. Yeah. Very good. So why does someone working in property? Well, like why is it so important? I'm in property management and it's like fair housing, fundamental it's in their face. Why is that? Why is that?

Michael (03:02): Well we can talk about, you know, obviously we talk about the basis of law. The fair housing act was designed to allow everybody to be able to choose the home that they would like and be able to enjoy their home and the amenities that, that it that it comes with cause you know, owning a home or having a place to call home is part of the American dream, right? So that's the much, much bigger picture, but let's narrow it down a little bit for each individual employee understanding the Fair Housing Act is a way of kind of protecting your job. There are, as in every career you've ever had any task you've ever done, they're kind of rules that and how you go about a certain task or how you go about a certain job. And the Fair Housing Act really affects many different levels, how you perform your job. So it's not just as easy as looking out for your tenant or your residents best interests. It's not just, you know having, having the best intentions it is understanding the policies and procedures that need to be in place in order to protect your company, to make sure your resident has a favorable experience on your property and to protect your career.

Jonathan (04:13): Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah. We want all of our community members and those who take the Fair Housing's courses like you want it to become second nature. Like you just need to be ingrained in you so that it becomes part of your natural everyday process, understanding that that's part of the fundamentals. So that kinda leads us to our- oh, go ahead, Michael.

Michael (04:35): I'm going to circle back, sorry about that, and just say that I guess I told you like why they need to, you know, follow the Fair Housing Act. I have to pay attention to it, but I didn't kind of discuss what it looks like if you don't. If you don't nothing good is waiting for you. Unfortunately, obviously, you can get involved in fair housing investigations. Your residents can launch complaints against you. You can get complaints lodged against you by testers that have actually no interest in your property. They're just there to make sure you're following the law. And if they find out that you're not get ready for an investigation, a lawsuit that costs time, that costs money, that costs legal fees that can cost careers of multiple people on your property. Not to mention it does not look good from a marketing and PR standpoint. If you have a bunch of investigations launched against you, probably gonna lead to some very bad reviews as well, which is a very important part of the industry right now. So again, just to give you a better picture of what follow the Fair Housing Act looks like on the, you know, the do and don't side.

Jonathan (05:33): Right, right. Yeah. I'm glad you included that. Yeah. Good to know. Lots of there's lots of ongoing cases on, on a regular basis for who haven't complied with the Fair Housing Act. So yeah. Good. I'm glad you brought that up. So that leads us to all right. So property management as a whole has so many different type, you know, so many different departments, you know, you get revenue management, asset management, maintenance, leasing sales. So when it comes to fair housing, where does that apply? Like what aspects of property management would you say fair housing applies too?

Michael (06:09): Really all of them. Absolutely every single every single one of them. The kind of difference is how it applies to each of them. Obviously it's gonna be a little bit different from a maintenance employee to a leasing employee, to somebody that works in accounting to somebody that maybe that works for your customer service phone line to somebody that is further up in management and they're directing your policies and procedures, right? They all need to know different elements of fair housing, just like their job has different responsibilities. They have different responsibilities to the Fair Housing Act. So a maintenance employee might need to know best what to say to a resident when certain questions come up, like if a resident approached a maintenance employee had said like, Hey, what kind of people live here?

Michael (06:53): Or like, hey, this is a no pet's property? But I noticed my neighbor has a dog. Those both have fair housing implications behind them, somebody higher up in the chain up in executive management, somebody working in the legal team, they may never speak to a resident, so they may not have those responsibilities, but they need to properly communicate those kind of messages down the flag pole, not to mention they get involved in writing so many policies and procedures. Some people will think that following fair housing laws and guidelines is really just how you've respond verbally. But a lot of it is how you set up your policies and procedures at the top to be followed by every level on down the flag pole. And if management at the top is not doing their job, making these policies and procedures, there's really not a lot that can be done on the ground level to help themselves because they're kind of set up for failure. So it, and people that work in like asset management or that work in accounting, again, they may have different responsibilities. They need to know different things that will come up in their day to day work. But every single level needs to understand at least a base of how the fair housing law works and how it applies to their job.

Jonathan (08:03): Right. Right. And I think it would be safe to add, it doesn't matter what size your property management company is. Right? Like it doesn't matter if you're 20,000 units or if you're 500 units or-

Michael (08:14): If you 10 or if you're 10. Yeah. Yeah. It applies at every single level. Some people think it's just, just the big guys that own properties in every state, but it is not. It is, you know, it is John Smith, John and Jane Smith that own, you know six or seven properties around the neighborhood.

Jonathan (08:30): Right, right. Exactly. Fair housing testers definitely do not discriminate on the size of the property management company.

Michael (08:37): Oh, they do not.

Jonathan (08:38): We can see that in all the case history. Good. So just to reinforce it, I know you've kind of touched on it with with that commentary there, true or false? Only those wa working in the office should take fair housing training, upper management and maintenance, they don't need it?

Michael (08:56): Yeah, absolutely false. We did kind of cover that, but just, yeah, a again, it's just a look at the different responsibilities that we all have. Just like every other job. We, every job, hopefully that is within a company is important. It serves a different role, same thing here, your role in terms of how you follow the Fair Housing Act and provide a safe and hospitable living space for your residents, it looks different at every level. But you have to understand how to do that first. It's not just gonna come naturally. I wish this stuff was just basic logic, but it's not, you really need to understand it.

Jonathan (09:31): Right. Right. Very good. And it's important to have regular training. It's not something that you can take a fair housing course once and be like, you know, it's all in there. It sticks. There's a lot of things.

Michael (09:45): The day that we invent a course that you can take one time and you're just good for the rest of your career, I will be so happy. We'll do a YouTube episode all about it. And we'll probably get a lot of money because we'll figure out how to teach somebody something once. And they remember it forever.

Jonathan (09:59): Yeah. Yeah. It's just, unfortunately, it's just not how the human brain works. Our retention level just isn't that good. You know, it fluctuates a little bit different for every person, but yeah, absolutely. Gotta keep in touch with all this stuff. Yeah. Very good. All right. So that takes us to our next segment and now as we wrap up episode 43, we're going to do our Fair Housing Fast Five. So Michael, are you ready for your five questions? And let's see if you can get them answered in 60 seconds or less. So you ready?

Michael (10:36): I think so. Let's do it. All right.

Jonathan (10:38): Let's hit it. Question number one. Does the Fair Housing Act only apply to federally subsidized housing?

Michael (10:45): No. The Fair Housing Act applies to everybody that provides housing.

Jonathan (10:49): Is a landlord permitted to discriminate against an applicant with poor credit?

Michael (10:53): Yes, credit can be a discriminating factor. It just needs to be applied consistently to everybody that applies.

Jonathan (11:00): Do landlords have to screen applicants?

Michael (11:04): Legally, no they don't, but the overwhelming majority choose to for their own protection.

Jonathan (11:09): Very good. What is the only protected category that includes an exemption?

Michael (11:14): That would be familial status. Certain senior properties can and say that no children are allowed to live in the property, which comes under the status, under familial status.

Jonathan (11:23): In responding to a request by an applicant or resident, what is the only protected category that a landlord must take into consideration?

Michael (11:30): Usually we're talking about reasonable accommodations and modifications here. So I'm gonna go with disability.

Jonathan (11:36): You are the first one in 2022 that has answered five questions in under 60 seconds. You win.

Michael (11:43): Yay.

Jonathan (11:43): Our grand prize of... The Georgia bulldogs won. Yay.

Michael (11:49): Hey, all it, all it took was me answering the questions right.

Jonathan (11:52): And they finally got that championship. There you go. Yeah. Well done. 56 seconds. So that's really good. So good questions, good teaching points for all of our audience. And remember everyone, if you haven't signed up for our newsletter, please do so. A lot of wonderful information is there. It keeps you in tune as we've highlighted fair housing is not just about taking a course and it's not just out watching our YouTube videos, which we are very grateful for. We thank you to all the training directors who reach out to us and say that you're using us as part of your curriculum, but the newsletter contains so much more good reminders, links to our blogs, links to other resources. So please sign up for that. So we'll look forward to seeing you on our next episode, take care everyone.

Michael (12:33): Get your training folks.

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