In the realm of property management and housing, maintaining an environment of safety and respect is paramount. However, a significant challenge persists in the form of illegal harassment by contractors and employees targeted towards residents. What do housing providers need to be aware of when it comes to fair housing and illegal harassment?
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Consider this scenario: A maintenance employee has just reported that a resident complained to them about a pest control contract worker, stating that they made inappropriate jokes about their culture and national origin. What are your responsibilities as the housing provider or property management company? What steps need to be taken?
Is the contractor’s conduct illegal?
In this scenario, we have a contractor who thinks it’s funny to poke fun at a person’s national origin by pretending to have an accent or making sideways comments about the smell of their cooking. As National Origin is protected under the Fair Housing Act, this absolutely could be considered illegal harassment and needs to be immediately addressed.
What if you receive a complaint about a staff member harassing a resident?
If a complaint is made about an employee, then action needs to be taken. Housing providers or property management companies are required by law to address situations of illegal harassment. This can look like putting the employee on notice or requiring some kind of additional counseling or training. Depending on the behavior or the level of the offense, termination may also be considered. The point is that the property needs to show that steps were taken to remedy the situation.
Is property management responsible for investigating if a resident lodges a complaint about harassment from a contractor?
This is where many companies may make a mistake, feeling that since the contractor isn’t technically their employee, it’s not their problem. But this is not the case. You are still responsible for investigating and remedying every case of illegal harassment that is reported, regardless of whether it’s an employee or a contractor. The only difference is that you would want to work in tandem with the contractor’s company to come up with a solution together.
What should be kept in mind regarding retaliation?
Remember that retaliation on the part of a housing provider against a resident is always illegal. Even if it’s a resident who is constantly causing problems or lodging complaints, you still need to address their concerns and can never retaliate against them as a result. Retaliation can take many shapes and forms, from delaying maintenance requests to non-renewing or terminating a lease. You need to ensure that each resident is always handled fairly, regardless of their actions.
In a landscape where every individual’s right to a secure and respectful living environment should be upheld, confronting the specter of illegal harassment by contractors and employees against residents demands our unwavering attention. As industry professionals, it is our shared responsibility to be proactive and ensure that everyone who comes into contact with residents has the required education and training to avoid a possible fair housing complaint.
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