Fair Housing and Communication – Pt 2 – Communicating with Prospects

Episode 21 of Fair Housing Insiders

Episode 21 - Fair Housing and Communication - Pt 2 - Communicating with prospects

Telephone fair housing training is a crucial component. Today we again discuss the importance of fair housing training, communication, and supervision.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

Highlights of Episode 21 – Fair Housing and Communication – Pt 2 –  Communicating with Prospects

Apartment rental offices receive many telephone calls each day. Questions such as:

  • Are there available apartments? 
  • What are your screening criteria? 
  • What is the resident population?

How an employee answers can cause the caller to have expectations of an apartment community. These expectations may or may not be realized when that person visits or fills out an application. Any contradictions in information can result in the assumption of discrimination.

Availability

When it comes to availability, seemingly innocent mistakes can lead to a fair housing complaint. In this week’s scenario, we see an employee rush through a conversation and misunderstand the caller’s question. He answers based on the types of units available, when in fact, the caller was asking about availability. What happens if that prospect drives down to the property only to find out that there is, in fact, no availability. Perhaps the prospect is of a protected class and feels that this is discrimination.

Or what if the person on the other end of the line is a tester? If there isn’t a set dialogue and different information is passed along on various calls, you could be headed for a fair housing complaint.

I know it seems like a lot of what-ifs, but these are very real scenarios that can lead to real complaints. This is where communication, training, and supervision are key to have best practices in place.

One of our top tips is that staff should always advise prospects that availability is constantly changing. With one sentence, you are setting a precedent and protecting your company from potential litigation.

Screening Criteria

One of the biggest rules to follow is: absolutely no ballparking! What do we mean? Well, if you have a staff member who hasn’t been adequately trained in answering phones, they can easily slip into responding to questions with their best guess.

As we saw in the video, a person could easily feel discriminated against based on an answer that seems ambiguous. Perhaps the leasing agent is changing the income criteria based on the prospect’s protected status.   

The rule here should always be: if you don’t know the specific answer to the question, do not answer. Along with this, a staff member should never be talking to prospects until they have received proper fair housing training. Also, supervision is imperative to ensure that all staff are on the same page and responding to questions appropriately and accurately.

Resident Population

This question comes up frequently. A prospect wants to know who or, more specifically, if there are residents of a protected class living there. You absolutely cannot use who lives there as a selling point. Encouraging or discouraging a prospect based on a protected class is prohibited by The Fair Housing Act. 

Again, training needs to happen to educate your staff on all protected classes and how they should be responding if questions arise. 

Fair Housing Communication Best Practices

Today communication goes far beyond answering phone calls. We have email, social media, messaging. The list goes on. Regardless of what type of media is utilized, communication, training, and supervision need to be part of your team’s fair housing best practices. 

Another great tip that we like to share is how a cheat sheet aids with fair housing policy compliance. This is especially helpful for new staff members. Having your top questions listed with carefully scripted answers will take any guesswork out of a proper reply. Your cheat sheet should include topics like availability, eligibility, criminal history screening, and questions about animals.

Final Fair Housing Take Away

We can’t stress it enough; communication is an integral part of fair housing best practices. Whether it’s internal communication or communicating with the public, proper training and supervision will help avoid costly fair housing complaints.

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