Proper documentation can help you defend against an allegation of housing discrimination. It’s pretty safe to say that all property management companies would like to avoid a lawsuit for a Fair Housing violation if at all possible.
Document Document Document
We always recommend for housing providers to “document, document, and document.” It is important to also understand what kind of information to include in your documentation of a particular situation so that if necessary it will serve your interests at a future time. Because we have encountered many documents of housing providers that were not as useful as they could have been, we have some recommendations for you of the kinds of information to always include.
Just like party invitations your documents need to contain who, where, when, and why.
It is also useful to include any other staff person or resident who was present or has knowledge of the situation.
Popular Article: Fair Housing & Personal Security – What Is Most Important?
Many companies use specific forms to document situations and complaints. Using these forms is often preferable over merely writing a narrative because often the forms prompt the employee to include all relevant and important information. If you don’t use forms, it may be worthwhile to develop several for your own use.
Try to describe as thoroughly and accurately as possible what was said and how it was said. For example, it is much more descriptive to state “the resident stormed into my office, shouting in a loud voice, using expletives and vulgar language” than to state “the resident was rude and upset.”
Just The Facts
Try not to use words that are more appropriate for a medical diagnosis. Stick to the observable facts of a situation. For example, instead of stating “Ms. Smith is obviously not taking her medicine and had another paranoid episode and accused her neighbor of stealing something from her apartment,” try to describe what Ms. Smith said and did during your conversation. If you’ve got several such incidents documented in Ms. Smith’s file, your diagnosis is not necessary and could be used against you and your property management company in a disability case.
Whenever possible your incident reports should result in documented action by management. There are many cases when the initial incident is documented, but there’s no record of what was done because of the incident. Even if a telephone call to a resident results, that call should be documented. Obviously, the best evidence is a letter to the resident, which the letter is its own document, but notes from meetings and telephone calls should also be included in the file.
Another issue is where to keep such documents. Many companies keep an incident report in a resident’s file. One problem is if the incident includes several residents. Who’s file do you keep it in? The answer is a copy should be kept in all involved residents’ files, as should the notations on the resulting actions.
Proper and thorough documentation is a topic, on which nearly all companies should train, and nearly all companies could improve performance through more careful supervision and role-playing. To review the performance of your office, we recommend that if you know of an incident that occurred during the past six months, go back and review the documentation that resulted. Analyze whether it was accurate, thorough, used the proper forms, and was retained in the proper files.
Proper documentation will aid you in case you are faced with a Fair Housing violation claim. Don’t skip steps. Don’t take shortcuts. Be thorough. Taking these matters seriously keeps us all on the path of true Fair Housing compliance.