Fair Housing and Written Responses

Does your property have policies in place for written responses? Why should you? What are some best practices? 

Fair Housing and Written Responses

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

When it comes to written responses, we need to be fair-housing focused. Every written response should be carefully created and follow a predetermined policy to avoid potential discrimination claims. This article will share potential pitfalls and best practices to help you and your staff tackle written responses.

Why are we talking about emails today?

Any time you discuss or talk about your property, it can be viewed as marketing. So responding to an email or even a social media request falls under the marketing purview. It’s important to identify this because some companies may become complacent with their email policy, leading to a fair housing issue.

Should property management professionals respond to prospect emails or social media requests in a certain order? 

The first and most crucial thing to address is to make sure that every email or social media request is actually responded to. Ignored or forgotten requests can lead to all kinds of trouble. Of course, a best practice is to respond to requests in the order they are received. Every company should have a system in place to monitor their different points of contact and respond in a timely manner.

What are some best practices when it comes to responding to prospect emails?

A word of warning: be especially careful when it comes to availability. This is the most common situation that can be easily misconstrued as discrimination. For example, two different prospects are interested in moving into the same property but receive two different responses when inquiring about availability. One is told that the unit they are interested in isn’t available but offered an alternative. The other is also told that the unit they are interested in isn’t available but offered no alternative. 

Neither is necessarily wrong. But having two different responses regarding availability can come across as discrimination. Every leasing agent needs to be on the same page and use the same responses or pitches.

Another area of concern is email signatures. These need to be kept professional and clear of anything that might offend, like religious quotes or symbols.

What should property management keep in mind when it comes to resident emails?

Remember that emails are an official form of communication. You are representing your company when you are talking to the resident or prospect. Usually, this is pretty easy to do, but what if the resident becomes hostile? Then what? You need to remain calm under all circumstances and maintain a professional tone. Do not email anything you wouldn’t want to be read in open court.

Would canned email responses be appropriate in any situation? If so, what should be kept in mind?

Canned responses can be helpful but need to be used carefully as they are not appropriate for every situation. For example, a canned response to a unique or emergent request can appear like you are brushing them off and should be responded to in a more detailed manner. 

Written responses and training

Along with following best practices to avoid fair housing pitfalls, remember to always bring the human element. Training and experience are needed to know where the lines are and how you can be both professional and a human. So double-check that your responses are on point and never stop training.

Jonathan (00:12): Hello everyone. And welcome to episode 47 of the Fair Housing Insiders. I am your host, Jonathan Saar and joined with me today is Michael Coughlin, Vice President of the Fair Housing Institute. Michael, how are you doing today?

Michael (00:23): Great, Jonathan, happy to be here again.

Jonathan (00:25): Yeah. Gonna be a great show. We're gonna talk about emails and how those relate to fair housing. So just a couple quick housekeeping reminders, please subscribe to our channel on YouTube. And if you haven't done so already, please subscribe to our newsletters. You'll never miss out on anything that we share with our community. We also post a lot of real nice short clips on our Instagram account. So nice sound bites, quick little videos from these shows. So please follow us on Instagram at Fair Housing Institute. So we are talking about emails today and how those relate to fair housing. So, Michael, why are we talking about that on the show today?

Michael (01:05): Just to add a little bit more, we're gonna kind of tie social media in here as well, because some of the same rules apply believe it or not emails and social media actually do fall under the marketing purview. It doesn't kind of seem like that because when you think marketing, you think ads, you don't really think email, but any way that you discuss and talk about your property really can be interpreted as marketing your property whether that's to prospects or to guests or sometimes even to residents. And we all get very comfortable with the way we send emails. But sometimes the way we send personal emails is not appropriate in a personal situation. There can just be a lot of things that maybe wouldn't immediately stand out to you that can trip you up and can cause a potential for your housing issue. So we wanna kind of take our time and kind of work through the steps here and just make sure that you're really thinking about everything that you're sending out to not just the public, but individual people as well.

Jonathan (02:03): Yeah. Yeah. Very good. Bundle it up. People into that. Anything that's a digital response, I guess would probably a fair description of what we're gonna cover today. So let's kind of dive into a couple questions into Michael. So should property management professionals respond to emails or social media requests in a certain order? What are your thoughts?

Michael (02:32): I don't think it's, I think the most crucial thing to remember is that you need, you absolutely have to respond to all of them. They shouldn't, they should not be ignored. I think that's where you're gonna get the largest amount of trouble is when a social media or email is ignored and just forgotten. In terms of, I would try to respond to them in the order that we were received. I mean, that's what most of us do in our office anyway, hopefully is that we respond to them as we get them. Sometimes we can't always do that right away. It takes time that's okay. But it is important to kind of keep up to date with that, especially, we're gonna talk about this a little bit more, but availability is gonna kind of become a big trend here when you're talking about direct emails and if you're not responding in a timely manner that can get a little fusing sometimes likewise social media, again, should be responding. You should really set up a schedule for that. It's not necessarily that maybe you need to respond every day, but maybe set up a calendar whoever's responsible for answering those social media responses, say, you know, two, three times a week, we're gonna go through and answer each one of these in order. So that's a good system to set up.

Jonathan (03:41): Right, right. Very good. Yeah. Keep it organized. And if I might throw in a couple of nerd thoughts when it comes to social media, you know, often I have seen people, Michael, where they're not even aware that there is a messaging type service associated with social media platform that they are using to talk about their community. So that's no excuse. So you need to be aware of what you have turned on, and I'm not kidding you. It's everything it's Google. My business has a messaging application. You need to know whether that's active or not. Facebook is always trying to prompt you to link your business page to a WhatsApp, cause they wanna promote that product. And so I need to make sure your site people haven't, if they are using it, that you're aware of it. So those are just some things to keep in mind when it comes to all these social platforms. And like, to your point, Michael, that's a lot to manage when you've got phone calls now emails now Messenger. Now Facebook now, you know, it's just, there's, there's a ton out there, so

Michael (04:46): Oh yeah.

Jonathan (04:46): Make sure you keep keep in touch of all of them. All right. So what are some of the best practices when it comes to responding to prospect emails?

Michael (04:57): There's a few different things to keep in mind here. I think first of all, let's jump back to availability is that you really need to be clear about about the availability of your properties in these emails and they're sent out when you send them out, make sure that the availability is up to date. If you start mixing around the availability just like if mix around the order of those prospects that they contact you, things can get confusing and a simple mistake that was completely honest, can end up looking like possible discrimination because you misinformed somebody about availability and maybe kind of discouraged them from their, you know, from being able to live there. I think also really reviewing and this kind of it should be done at a company level is reviewing your policies for emails take a look at your signatures make sure that there's nothing in your signatures that could be misconstrued.

Michael (05:53): One of the things that that can come up a lot is is religious quotes scripture quotes in emails, you know, or religious symbols again as well meaning as it is for you to represent, you know, your religion. It can come off as religious discrimination as if you're promoting one religion through emails. So somebody of a different religion or no religion could feel like maybe they wouldn't be welcome at your property. So that's something you really need to review with your team and should be understood from the top down in your company.

Jonathan (06:28): Right. Very good. Appreciate that summary. All right. So why don't we take a look at a scenario now, and that relates to obviously fair housing and emails and we'll get your comments on it, Michael.

Speaker 3 (06:41): Hey Alex, I'm excited for our families to live closer. I emailed happy village about looking at some apartments this weekend. Did you?

Speaker 4 (06:49): Yes. Unfortunately they replied, they didn't have any three bedrooms like I wanted.

Speaker 3 (06:53): Yeah. They mentioned the same thing to me too, but they mentioned that they had some big two, two bedroomsI could look at.

Speaker 4 (06:59): There wasn't anything in my email about the two bedrooms.

Speaker 3 (07:02): That's weird.

Michael (07:04): So this seems like a kind of, I don't know, not a big deal scenario. Like it doesn't seem like big of a deal on the face, but we've got two friends here and they're, you know, they're looking excited to maybe live together in the same property and they seem to have received some different, the information about the the rooms that are available. Now, they were both told the same thing that there were no three bedrooms, right. But one agent and it could be the same leasing agent. It could be a different leasing agent. We don't know for the context, but it doesn't really matter. One of them pushed those two bedrooms and the other one just kind of left it at that. No bedrooms, sorry about that. So really they didn't really say anything inaccurate, but the appearance is that, oh, we want that we really wanna push this person to live there.

Michael (07:51): And then the other for Alex, it's like, well, no, sorry, no three bedrooms. So again, you may be looking at somebody who's thinks, oh, well they don't want me to live there. They want my friend to live there, but that we, they don't want me to live there. And that can be a real problem. So that's what we were talking about, about getting everybody on the same page about what you put in your emails. If you're doing pitches and sales, every time you're always trying to push properties on your emails that needs to be done for everybody. So, you know, if you're, you know, told that, you know, you tell 'em the availability and that what they're looking for is not available. And, but your job is to push something else instead that needs to be done for everybody. So you really need to maintain consistency and be careful here.

Jonathan (08:35): Yeah. Very good. Yeah. A good scenario, very realistic with what, what we see today and how people communicate. So just that at one little omission can put someone into some trouble. Okay. So let's talk about a couple other things, Michael resident emails. So what should property management keep in mind when it comes to residents and their emails that they send to the office?

Michael (09:00): I think going over a lot of what we've already said about consistency and again, making sure that everything in your email your signature line, especially cause people don't think about that that often you know, we don't review our signature lines every single time we send an email making sure those are appropriate, but I think we need to remember that emails are, you know, an official form of communication. You're representing your company when you're talking to a resident. And sometimes residents can get hostile. They can use aggressive language. They can lit try to offend you. And you know, that that unfortunately is part of the business, but it's important that you remain patient and professional you know make sure that you really read those emails through this is a record of your interaction with this resident.

Michael (09:52): And, you know, if there is a fair housing complaint that eventually comes up, then these records will most likely be a part of it. So, you know, you don't want to email anything that like, you know, a good way of thinking about is you don't want to email anything that you wouldn't read in open court. So, you know, make sure that you're really patient with them. You explain your position or try to try to respond to them in a timely manner to make sure you and take care with of whatever is whatever the issue is. You know, do your due diligence.

Jonathan (10:23): Right. Very good. So last topic, you know, we've heard this one a few times from the community and we all in non fair housing type situations, we may a cookie cutter template, canned type response to in our, in emails. So when it comes to property management, though, our canned email, social media responses, are they appropriate and what should be kept in mind when it comes to them?

Michael (10:55): I absolutely think they're great. I mean, I mean, again, it's certainly not for every situation, but this is a way of making sure that you have an email statement that's essentially been reviewed and reviewed and reviewed and it looks good and it can be used in certain scenarios over and over again, and it's totally appropriate. I think that's perfectly fine. I've used them before in the, my work. I'd imagine that a lot of people that work with emails use them sometimes they can be reviewed by a manager, an attorney just to make sure that they fit with what you want. But not in every scenario. And that's gonna become kind of a training thing. And along with some experience that realizing sometimes that there are emails where maybe a specific word or a specific request stands out and you realize, okay, I have to, I have to address this a little bit more. I have to, you know, really write out this email in order to properly address this problem. I can't cause sometimes a canned email response when something is very important or they're talking about something very unique that can kind of seem like you're brushing something under the rug or not paying attention. You certainly don't wanna don't wanna give that impression, but really make sure that you're, you're paying attention to what your residents will say. And if it's appropriate, then a canned response is perfectly fine.

Jonathan (12:06): Right, right. Very good. I like what you mentioned too about training, cause, it's hard to cover every single type of email in just the short span of time on this show. So for our community, you know, be sure that you cover all those typical type emails and have policies in mind. And often people are asking like, can I still be human? Where can I add my, you know, human touch to it instead of it sounding like a robot. So those are all good things that you should be considering in some additional training sessions just to make sure that your team is all on the same page.

Michael (12:41): Yeah, absolutely. And Jonathan, that's a really good point actually is your humanity can be your biggest asset, you know, being able to relate to people properly especially on social media, I feel like that's, you know, I feel like social media while you can be professional, you can also have a little bit more fun than maybe you could in the email. And that's perfectly fine. It's just, again, it's a matter of training and experience and this is something you can absolutely work on with your team is, you know, write out these fake emails from residents or even use a email, a difficult email from a resident way in the past ask, you know, and say like, how would you respond to this? And you know, really, really work through that. And once everybody starts to get more comfortable, then you can actually start to, you know, you can kind of move away from some of the cookie cutter responses and start to be a little bit more natural while still being professional and addressing the issue.

Jonathan (13:42): All right, Michael it's time for our favorite part of the, one of our favorite parts of this show is our Fair Housing Fast Five, where you could be the winner of one quintillion, gajillion, bajillion, fake dollars. If you can answer all five of these questions in under 60 seconds, I don't know if anybody's actually been able to do that yet.

Michael (14:05): I would actually like to interject, I believe I did that.

Jonathan (14:08): You were the one that did that. That's right. That's right. So well this is a new prize of all kinds of fake money. So let's see how well you do today. All right. Are you, you ready? My friend?

Michael (14:18): Let's do it.

Jonathan (14:19): All right, here we go. What should a company do if an employee posts something inappropriate on social media?

Michael (14:27): They should delete it immediately. You should really maintain your social media account and check or stuff like that. It may also be necessary to issue an apology over social media, if any, you know, offensive or tone was used. And again, it's never hurts if you can run it by corporate counseling.

Jonathan (14:44): Are canned email responses a good policy or will they get you in trouble?

Michael (14:48): Overall good policy. You shouldn't certainly shouldn't use them in every scenario, but a lot of scenarios they can really they can really help your employees deliver the right message.

Jonathan (14:58): Is it okay to have religious references or scripture in your emails or social media?

Michael (15:05): I would strongly discourage that it can really end up looking like religious discrimination. So just it stay, you know, your personal email, okay fine. But your work email, I would, I would keep that out.

Jonathan (15:15): What is the most important thing to remember when emailing prospects?

Michael (15:20): Consistency you know, making sure that you have correct information availability, everybody on your, on your team is on the same page. You're all telling everybody the same stuff and, and timely responses.

Jonathan (15:33): If a leasing agent goes on vacation, is it okay to hold all their emails until they get back?

Michael (15:39): I certainly would not. I mean, you could end up having a scenario where you know prospects are losing out on available properties because they were working with one leasing agent while another leasing agent was renting out those proper. So if they're out of town, those emails should be passed off to somebody that can take care of 'em for the time being until the leasing agent gets back.

Jonathan (16:01): All right, well, you didn't break your record today, my friend,

Michael (16:03): Ah,

Jonathan (16:05): Minute 40. So-

Michael (16:07): Minute 40!?

Jonathan (16:08): You have to work on your fair housing pushups or something,

Michael (16:11): I guess. So,

Jonathan (16:13): But those are, that's awesome. Again, big you know, a big topic a lot at stake there, especially since email social media is like the primary way that most people communicate is, you know, you go back 10 years and you know, obviously it was the phone or a fax machine or something like that. But these days this is, this is the way people communicate in shorter messages. So, yeah. Great show. Thank you for your feedback. And thank you for answering those questions are a huge benefit for everyone who's tuned into our show. Please use this show, this episode, our channel to help your team. We appreciate the feedback from many who say the have used these shows to provide a backdrop for training topics for fair housing at your property management company. So share this with your network. If you're on YouTube, please give us that thumbs up, please subscribe to our channel. And if you have any questions or topics that you would like discuss please let us know, always remember to pose your question and YouTube for us or on our Instagram channel. So we can use those questions in a future community episode where we'll discuss those two. So until next time, everyone take care. Thanks for being on the show.

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