The Frontlines of Fair Housing

Our maintenance professionals are genuinely on the frontlines when it comes to interacting with residents. But do your people know how to handle the situations that often arise and can quickly go from fair housing compliance to a fair housing complaint?

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Maintenance staff encounters various situations every day that other staff would not necessarily experience. In this article, we will review why maintenance training is so essential and review a few common scenarios that highlight how seemingly innocent situations can quickly turn into a fair housing complaint.

Why Is Fair Housing Training Important for Maintenance Professionals?

Fair housing training is vital for all staff. Maintenance professionals are on the frontlines of providing a good customer service experience. They need training that will aid in being sensitive and careful in what they say and how they say it. That being said, the training should also be specific to the type of situations they come across while completing their daily tasks. 

Over the years, there have been so many fair housing lawsuits and complaints that are directly the result of the actions of a maintenance staff member. This is partly due to the belief that many companies have that fair housing training is not necessary for maintenance employees. 

As stated above, the fact that there are so many lawsuits and fair housing complaints would dictate otherwise. Let us consider a few scenarios highlighting how training can help our maintenance professionals avoid potential fair housing complaints.

A Favor, or Standard Customer Service?

One of the most common requests for maintenance staff fields is when a resident asks for their help moving something. It seems innocent enough if this is the kind of thing that is done for all residents. If not, and the staff member only does it for particular residents, this can quickly appear discriminatory. A good policy to have is that if you are going to do favors for one resident, you need to do favors for all residents.

The Case of the Towel-Clad Resident

A maintenance employee responds to a work order, and the resident comes to the door with nothing but a towel and doesn’t seem concerned. In fact, they tell them to come in and get started while they go get dressed. Now what? Again we are faced with a situation that perhaps looks innocent but could be misconstrued as sexual harassment. The right thing to do in a situation like this is leave. The best policy is a very brief explanation that someone will be in contact to reschedule and then a rapid retreat. Along with that, an incidence report should be filed, and a supervisor informed.     

These are only a few of the many different situations that maintenance professionals come across, but they highlight the importance of targeted fair housing training. In summary, be sure that you and your staff are following fair housing best practices by keeping your training up to date.

Jonathan (00:12): Hello, everyone. Welcome to episode 40 of the 'Fair Housing Insiders'. We're looking forward to another excellent show with Kathi Williams. Kathi thank you so much for being on our show today. How are you doing?

Kathi (00:23): I'm doing great, Jonathan and boy, is this something that we need to talk about.

Jonathan (00:29): Absolutely. The front lines in fair housing, our maintenance professionals, very key component to the function of any community. So why is fair housing so important even for maintenance professionals? What do you think about that? Kathi?

Kathi (00:45): You know, the reality is that it is mostly the maintenance professionals who are responsible for customer service directly to the residents. And that can be a terrific thing for a property management company, or if a maintenance professional is not properly trained in the fair housing concerns and where to be sensitive and careful with what they say and how they say it, just like all housing professionals. It can resolve in a fair housing problem, you know, during my long career doing fair housing cases, I have seen many fair housing lawsuits and complaints result from the actions and statements of maintenance employees. And we find even today that there are a lot of companies that don't believe it's necessary to train their maintenance professionals in the basics of fair housing. So we're here to tell you today your maintenance professionals need fair housing training, just like the leasing consultants do.

Jonathan (02:04): Right, right. Very good. Nice summary. Yeah. We strongly encourage all of you in our community to use episodes like this as a training tool and always keep in mind the online courses that we have available for maintenance professionals as well. So we're gonna take a look at a couple of scenarios that happen very often for maintenance professionals and see where fair housing comes into play. So let's take a look at our first scene, Kathi, and then we'll get your feedback on it.

Resident (02:34): Hey Stan, I need a huge favor.

Maintenance Professional (02:37): Sure. Jack, what can I do for you?

Resident (02:40): I have this table that my wife bought in my truck and I need help bringing it up the stairs to my apartment. Would you mind giving me a hand?

Maintenance Professional (02:48): Absolutely. I was just on my way to Mrs. Black's to fix her stove. Just let me give her a quick call and let her know. I'll be a few minutes late.

Kathi (02:57): So Jonathan, my first question here would be is the maintenance employee doing a favor for the resident or instead, is this something that a maintenance employee would always do for a resident? If it's the kind of thing they do for all residents then fine. If this is a special favor for Jack, then it's a problem. And it kind of is almost not. It doesn't feel like common sense because you usually for the people that we like the most that we work with, that we know we're always happy to lend a helping hand. That feels like the good thing to do, right? But when you are an employee, when you are a professional in the housing industry, you always have to be aware that a favor can look like discrimination. So if Stan and Jack have the same, let's say race and a different resident has a different race and asks Stan for a favor and Stan is too busy, or really doesn't like that resident and doesn't do it. Do you see how that looks like different treatment and different treatment can look like discrimination, even if the employee had no such intent in their mind when they accepted the favor. So if you're gonna do favors for one resident, you have to do favors for everybody. And conversely, probably the best policy is you do for the residents what's in your job description and no more than that. It can look like discrimination and that's what maintenance employees have to keep in mind.

Jonathan (05:04): Right. Right. Very good. Thank you so much. Excellent explanation in what could potentially happen in with different residents. So thank you so much, Kathi. So let's dive into our second scenario. Now we'll get your feedback on this one.

Resident (05:19): Oh, hi Stan. I thought you were going to take longer to help Jack. I just got out of the shower.

Maintenance Professional (05:24): Yeah, it didn't take as long as I thought it would. It was an easy job.

Speaker 5 (05:28): Come on in and get started on the stove. It'll just take me a minute to change.

Maintenance Professional (05:31): Okay, great.

Kathi (05:34): Jonathan, this is one of those situations that can occur in a maintenance situation. When you're walking in a unit to perform maintenance duties and perhaps the person is in the bathroom, perhaps they're asleep and they get up and walk out and they're obviously inappropriately dressed or perhaps not dressed at all. In this case, Mrs. Black runs out of the shower, has a towel on and invites the employee on into her unit. Now that situation can be very innocent, can result in no problems for the employee. Our concern is it can also get turned around and used against the employee and it can look like a potential situation for sexual harassment.

Jonathan (06:33): Mm-Hmm .

Kathi (06:33): Again, what people have in their minds is really important. It's what it looks like to someone else. A third party, let's say a fair housing investigator. So the safest best practice in this situation is for Stan to leave the apartment immediately,

Kathi (06:58): since Mrs. Black is in a towel and make arrangements to come back another time and perform the duties. And it can easily be explained that it's company policy, that you can't be in the unit. If the resident is not dressed properly and you'll be glad to come back enough other time again, that conversation shouldn't happen with a naked woman standing in front of you with a towel. Instead, you should just excuse yourself, leave the unit and then report it to the supervisor that this is what happened. And somebody makes arrangements to reschedule the work. This is really for the benefit of the employee, because as I said earlier, this is one of those situations I have seen residents use against the employee in a fair housing case. So, you know, just to be extra careful, don't put yourself in that kind of danger and instead avoid these situations, but also remember to report them in an incident report just in case something comes up later.

Jonathan (08:13): Excellent. Thank you so much. Wonderful explanation, really helps to see what maintenance professionals do in those types of situations.

Kathi (08:23): Yeah, I think, you know, we've got two things we're looking at. One is to make sure that you're following fair housing, best practices. The other is to protect yourself as an employee from your behavior or your statements being misinterpreted, and then somehow used against you and your community later in a fair housing case. So that's sometimes the reason why we make the suggestions we do for best practices.

Jonathan (08:55): Okay, Kathi. So we are introducing a new fun way to wrap up the fair housing insider show. So we're looking forward to putting you on the spot with a fair housing fast five. So we are going to ask you five questions, put you in the spotlight here for a minute and you'll have 60 seconds to answer all those questions. You know, it's a big challenge. So are you ready?

Kathi (09:25): Okay. That is a big challenge for me. especially for me. Right? Okay.

Jonathan (09:31): I'm ready. We appreciate all of your explanations. It helps out our community. So we just wanted to spice things up a little bit and just see if we can have fun with a little game here at the end of our show. So I'm gonna hit the stopwatch and we're gonna time you 60 seconds. I'm gonna read you five questions. Are you ready?

Kathi (09:51): All right, let's hit it.

Jonathan (09:52): All right, here we go. Should a maintenance employee perform work orders in the order most convenient for the employee?

Kathi (10:01): No, they should do it according to company policy,

Jonathan (10:06): If a resident offers a maintenance employee some cash for doing extra work, should the employee take it?

Kathi (10:11): No, that's a terrible idea. There's just too much room for misunderstanding of situations like that.

Jonathan (10:19): Sometimes an employee may enter an apartment to perform a work order and find that only a child is home. What should the employee do?

Kathi (10:26): Just like with an inappropriately addressed adult, the maintenance employee should leave file an incident report and come back at another time when the adult is present.

Jonathan (10:37): What is the most common complaint by residents against maintenance employees?

Kathi (10:42): That they don't announce themselves. And they don't leave a note that they were in their unit when the resident wasn't home.

Jonathan (10:50): What's the correct answer to the question, "What kind of people live here?"

Kathi (10:54): The answer is go to the office and they'll be glad to answer your questions. Don't give out information about the protected categories of your residents. So did I make it?

Jonathan (11:04): So close.

Kathi (11:04): Did I make it?

Jonathan (11:07): 72 seconds.

Kathi (11:10): Oh shoot!

Jonathan (11:12): 72 seconds. But that is, that is absolutely amazing. Those were deep questions. And still just over a minute to answer all five. that was fun. That was a lot of fun. We hope our community, you enjoyed that too. So great way to wrap up the show. This has been episode 40. We want to encourage you as our community to continue to share our content with your team members. And if you have any questions that you would like answered on this show, please respond in our YouTube channel or in our Instagram account in future episodes. We're gonna be using those questions as a basis for our show. So we'll be responding to the questions that you submit. So, Kathi, Thank you again for being on the show. We'll see everyone next time. Thank you for tuning into the Fair Housing Insiders.

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The Fair Housing Institute

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