Dealing with a fair housing claim is difficult enough without adding a claim of retaliation to it. This article gives practical advice on how to avoid such claims as well as hopefully prevent a fair housing violation to begin with.
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
Table of contents
What Is Retaliation?
A retaliation claim can happen when a resident who has already launched a fair housing claim against you alleges that you are retaliating or treating them unfairly due to this claim. An appearance of retaliation can take many different forms. Given the situation’s sensitivity, caution must be taken when dealing with this resident; however tempting it might be to brush off any further requests from them.
Consider this scenario: a staff member just received a maintenance request from a resident that has made a fair housing claim. The staff member directs the maintenance worker to put their work order at the bottom of the list. If the resident realizes their request is being purposely delayed, you have just made this situation go from bad to worse.
A good thing to remember is that even if the original fair housing claim is dismissed, you can still be charged with retaliation if you failed to handle the situation correctly and fairly. Regardless of the fair housing claim, a property never has the right to retaliate in any way.
Critical fair housing training is required to help staff understand the repercussions of retaliatory behavior and probably would have helped avoid the original charge to begin with.
What Are Some Best Practices To Avoid Retaliation Claims?
At the heart of the matter, you need to focus on doing business as usual. Under no circumstance should you treat the accusing resident any differently than any other resident. That being said, how should you handle this resident if they begin to feel they are untouchable, perhaps violating one or more of your property’s rules or policies?
Do not ignore these actions. Every resident is required to follow the rules. Again, given the delicacy of the situation, a good best practice might be to pull in a fair housing attorney to help you follow up on any lease violations. This will aid in avoiding even the appearance of retaliation.
What Is the Best Way To Avoid a Fair Housing Complaint?
The best way to avoid a fair housing complaint is to do your utmost not to give your residents anything to complain about in the first place. Ongoing fair housing training for every staff member is an imperative practice. If, despite training and best practices, a complaint is lodged, it’s best to limit any contact between the resident and any staff members involved. Thorough documentation is also required. Take detailed notes of every interaction you have with the resident to clearly showcase your side of any issue raised.
Property management can have its ups and downs, but by following these best practices and continuing your training, you will have the tools you need to keep you and your company fair housing compliant.
Jonathan (00:12): Hello, everyone. Welcome to the fair housing insiders. I'm your host, Jonathan Saar. And joining me today is Michael Coughlin and we are on episode 56. And today we're talking about retaliation claims and how to deal with those. Just a couple of the housekeeping items before we get into our show remember to sign up for our newsletter. We have extra content that's always available to our wonderful community and an opportunity based on your community questions to be entered into a contest. So if you haven't signed up for our newsletter, make sure you do that. There'll be a link in the show notes that will be available to you. And also please follow us on Instagram, where we also have extra fair housing related content that we share with the community you can find us at at Fair Housing Institute. So today we're talking about retaliation claims, so very important topic. We're glad that we're able to discuss this with our community. So let's kick it to you, Michael. Again, welcome to the show. Give us an idea. What is retaliation?
Michael (01:15): Thanks as always for Jonathan for having me on. So retaliation is a really important part of a fair housing training and indeed being a housing provider and understanding that part of the law. The idea is that if somebody were to launch a fair housing complaint against you, a complaint in general, that essentially puts you the housing provider in some sort of legal jeopardy that you then start treating them unfairly due to that complaint that can look a lot of different ways and a lot of different scenarios. So maybe it's best if starting out, we just kind of show you an example of what that looks like.
Jonathan (01:49): Yeah, good idea. Okay. So let's take a look at our scenario for today and then we'll get your further comments on it, Michael.
Maintenance (01:56): Hey Morgan, I'm going to fix miss Lopez's water pressure in 2 0 3.
Management (02:00): Just hang on a minute. Move that request to the back of your list for now. Work on everything else first.
Maintenance (02:07): Okay. Why are we holding off on the job?
Management (02:10): I just found out Ms. Lopez filed a complaint against us for discrimination, just because we wouldn't let her keep her ridiculous emotional support pig. Wow.
Maintenance (02:19): Really? What are you gonna do about it?
Management (02:22): I don't know, but for now all of her maintenance requests can wait.
Jonathan (02:26): Okay. Michael, what do you think?
Michael (02:29): This is a pretty clear cut scenario, to be honest, but we'll kind of break it down. Like obviously Ms. Lopez has filed a, some kind of a fair housing complaint discrimination for unfortunately her emotional support pig, which was, you know, that's a pretty high bar to have on emotional support pig. So it looks like that was turned down. And in this scenario, we'll assume that it was rightly turned down. And so Morgan has decided to just start delaying all of the maintenance and housekeeping amenities and services that they're providing to every other resident. This is a clear cut sign of retaliation. If I've ever seen one, anytime you respond to these kind of scenarios with treating people differently, especially in a negative manner, then you're just ripe for retaliation. It's actually really important that you understand that you can be cited for retaliation, even if the initial complaint was completely dismissed.
(03:23): So let's say in this scenario that Ms. Lopez files her suit and it's bogus that she has no right to be filing it, that, you know, that her claim for emotional support pig was absolutely wrong. Like it was very easy denial that they could get that dismissed, but still be found guilty for retaliation for the way that they responded to the complaint. So that's really important. You understand a lot of people file bad complaints all over the country all the time, every year. That's one of the reasons why training is so important, but just because the complaint was bad or the way they behaved was bad, doesn't mean you have a right to retaliate.
Jonathan (03:58): Yeah. Very good, nice explanation. And I appreciate how you, how you, you know, pulled that in too, even if there is no fair housing violation, how it still can be a liability issue. So is there any other examples that you can think of Michael and why it's such a problem, or maybe we can get into also like what, how, how can we avoid a retaliation claim? What are some best practices? Any comments on that?
Michael (04:28): Yeah. a lot of questions surrounding this area are always that, you know, we tell you like, "Hey, you cannot retaliate against people. You can't take all these punitive actions against people that have filed a complaint." Well, then that puts in your mind, it's like, oh, are these people, are they suddenly untouchable? Because, because you know, they filed a complaint and the truth is, is that they're not. So you, that, that the whole concept behind retaliation issue should not be treating people differently just because they filed a complaint. Despite the fact that, you know, naturally we, you know, if somebody complained about us and we felt that it was very wrong and they got, you know, maybe our job or our housing or, or actual community in jeopardy, we would have, you know, we would want to be like, you know, I don't wanna provide you with excellent service anymore.
(05:11): But the truth is that you have to, that being said, those same individuals are not exempt from your rules and your lease and your policies. You need to treat them the same way you would any other resident. So if they violate your rules, violate your policies, you know, violate your lease then you absolutely have the right to follow up on that. That being said, the only thing I would recommend is that when you're in this kind of situation where somebody has filed that fair housing complaint, and then all of a sudden they are trying to skirt your rules and policies that you may be follow up with an attorney to discuss the best way to go about it, just to make sure that you never give any appearance of looking like you may be retaliating. So just be very careful, but at the same time, don't ignore your rules and policies. Everybody should be following those.
Jonathan (05:59): Very good. Yeah. I know in a future episode, we're talking a bit about bullying and in some ways people look at retaliation or feel like if they're being in that scenario, that they're being bullied. So there's also just the public relations potential nightmare that we always need to consider the, the jury of a public opinion is, is always something that has to be thought about too. So good best practices. Thank you for highlighting some practical steps. So what do you think is the best way to avoid a fair housing complaint in the first place? You know, how do we get, you know, obviously we don't wanna, we would love to avoid getting to this point where we could be perceived as retaliation, but what can we do to even avoid that as a potential situation also?
Michael (06:52): Well, obviously there's a, there's a couple easy first steps and the first is, you know, fair housing training make sure everybody is trained. That just is gonna lower the chances of you having a fair housing complaint in the first place. But then after that like I said, I will go back to like, if a fair housing complaint has been lodged, whether it is, you know, real or not. I mean, in terms of like, if the if the offense was actually true or not then you need to kind of proceed the same way. One is to if possible you know minimizing counters, if the complaint was live specifically at a specific person, like a maintenance employee, a leasing boy, try to minimize the amount of conversation they have, they're being in the same room, certainly not saying that they should ignore any service that they need to provide to them.
(07:39): But if, you know, if you can get a different maintenance tech, if they can deal with another leasing employee that is more favorable just to keep that interaction in a minimum. The other part is, is that you need to start really start documenting your interactions with that resident more often. So, you know, if you follow up on a, on a maintenance request for them, make sure you really document the timeline. You show that you're doing your due diligence with providing the service. If they're coming in the leasing office and they're making complaints make sure that you are writing those down, you're writing the interactions down the way that they're speaking. If you can have a second person in the room that's really favorable, you just wanna make sure that you are doing everything you can to to basically, you know, to build that kind of recorded evidence, to show that you are not retaliating them, that you're treating them the same, that you would treat any resident, that's gonna go a really long way to protect your career personally, and your community and the housing provider at large.
Jonathan (08:35): Right, right. Very good. And I, I'm assuming too, like when it comes to documentation, you know, it, that the justice department, if they're involved, they wanna see that you're doing that documentation, you know, as a comparison with other, other residents is not necessarily just the one person that's causing.
Michael (08:56): Yeah. Well, the idea is that, is that it shows that you're doing your due diligence. Not only does it act as an appropriate defense, but it shows that you're taking the entire scenario and situation seriously, and that you're not just acting based off of, you know, how you're feeling at the time about that specific resident that you're going through an operating procedure that should show consistency with the way you treat other residents.
Jonathan (09:19): There you go. There you go. Very good. Very good. Yeah. Great topic. Thank you for highlighting, you know, some challenges, some examples, and what we can do when it comes to residents who accuse us of retaliation. Okay. So we come to our fun feature of every episode and that's our fair housing, fast five. And you were so kind a few episodes ago, Michael, to extend the time limit to 90 seconds.
Michael (09:54): I need to, yeah.
Jonathan (09:55): Yeah. So we'll see, we'll see how well you do today. I mean, you might win that magical imaginary fair housing, fast 5 million gajillion or, or something. So how you all right. Are you ready?
Michael (10:09): Ready?
Jonathan (10:10): All right. What are some common forms of retaliation?
Michael (10:15): Deferring maintenance requests later and later non-renewal of the lease for no apparent reason and just being overall harsher with your rules without any real cause as to why.
Jonathan (10:27): Can you be found guilty of retaliation, even if the initial complaint was dismissed?
Michael (10:32): Absolutely retaliation. It does not matter if the original complaint was absolutely ridiculous dismissed in five seconds, you can still be found guilty.
Jonathan (10:41): How should you handle a resident that has filed a complaint against you?
Michael (10:46): Very carefully you know, make sure that if you're going to use an ICU measure, that an attorney is involved just to take you through the steps make sure communication is high lower, any, any engagement with, if there's a person that specific person that a complaint has been filed against and make sure you document all your interactions with that resident.
Jonathan (11:06): Should you look the other way when a resident who has filed a complaint breaks your community rules?
Michael (11:12): Actually not follow all your standard procedures and operations. If they have committed a lease violation, they need to at least get a warning that they are not exempt.
Jonathan (11:21): What do you do if a resident files a complaint and later commits lease violations?
Michael (11:27): Again, just be very careful a follow up with an attorney to make sure you're going about it the right way. But if they commit a lease violation, you should do what you should for every resident. That's the whole concept.
Jonathan (11:37): Very good. Oh, wow. Well that worked in your favor giving you the extra 30 seconds. So a minute 28, Hey, well done. Yay.
Michael (11:46): And that's the whole reason I did. It's just for me,
Michael (11:53): Yeah. I want lots of confetti and there you go. Probably popping balloons or something.
Jonathan (11:56): Streamers. Imagine all those things, but hey, well done. I love it. I, you know, I love this feature so much because it, it just it's good ways for our audience to have the key takeaways, the key points and, and something that's is easy to remember with these questions. So thank you so much, Michael great episode. Anything you'd like to add before we sign off today?
Michael (12:18): Yeah. I just want to really put this back out there. Like I had before is please please put your questions in the comments. And you know, if you have any topics that you wanna hear about, you feel like we haven't talked enough about put those in the comments as well. We actually just made a video based off of a comment. Somebody made a couple weeks ago because we realized we hadn't addressed a topic yet. And we're going to also do community question videos where we answer some of the best questions we find. And obviously there's always gonna be directed towards housing providers. I know a lot of residents like put them in there too, and we'll do our best to address them. But really obviously the channel is for housing providers, people working in the leasing and management industry and just keep 'em coming. And remember that we pick one random question that makes it to the video to win a $250 gift card. So, you know, there's no subscriptions or anything. Just get your questions out there and hopefully we'll address 'em and maybe you can win some money.
Jonathan (13:12): Very good. Yeah. Thank you for those reminders. Yeah. This show is awesome. It's a lot of fun. We're so grateful to our fair housing insiders community. We love your feedback. As MI, as Michael mentioned, it really, really helps us understand what we can do for you. So continue to share it with your network. Thank you for the thumbs up in advance for this particular episode. And until next time, we'll see you on our next show. Thanks everyone. Take care.
Michael (13:37): Happy training.
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