August 2015 Coach's Quiz
We’ve given you nine rules for complying with fair housing rules that ban discriminatory statements. Now let’s look at how the rules might apply in the real world. Take the COACH’s Quiz to see what you have learned.
INSTRUCTIONS: Each of the following questions has only one correct answer. On a separate piece of paper, write down the number of each question, followed by the answer you think is correct—for example, (1) b, (2) a, and so on.
And this month, there’s an extra assignment: Judge for Yourself, a summary of an actual court case. Test yourself on whether you think the community should be held liable, and then check the summary of the court’s ruling to see how much you’ve learned.
The correct answers (with explanations) follow the quiz. Good luck!
A resident keeps calling about the status of a reasonable accommodation request she just submitted. The last time, she got nasty, calling you names and threatening to sue you if you don’t give her what she wants. Try as you might, you lost your patience and said that you don’t think she’s disabled anyway—and that she might be better off living somewhere else. You could be accused of a fair housing violation because of your off-hand remark. True or false?
If you run an online ad describing the property as “Perfect for empty nesters,” it could trigger a fair housing complaint. True or false?
JUDGE FOR YOURSELF
A family rented a home on a month-to-month basis on 28-acre parcel in New York. Because of a pending sale of the property, the real estate agent dropped off a letter, informing the family they would have to vacate in two months unless they agreed to modified lease terms, including a rent increase. She followed up with text messages, but there was no response.
A few days later, the mother called the property owner to let him know that her daughter, who had autism spectrum disorder and epilepsy, had just been hospitalized for seizures, so it wasn’t the time to negotiate with the agent.
What followed were a series of text messages between the agent and the mother. Though sympathetic, the agent said the sale was going through and they would have to move unless they agreed to new rental terms. The mother protested, and at some point, questioned how an ambulance could get up the “poorly maintained icy road” road for the daughter.
A few days later, the mother texted the agent to postpone a scheduled inspection of the home because her daughter needed medical testing due to the seizures. Allegedly, the agent agreed, but added, “The prospective owner is very concerned your lease with you Childs medical situation and will probably not want to rent to you [sic].” When the mother questioned her, the agent allegedly responded that “the owner has decided not to rent to you because your daughter should be in a more convenient location to medical treatment.” And in another, she allegedly stated, “The new owner is concerned by your statement that emergency vehicles cannot reach you should your daughter be at risk.” Allegedly, the agent later admitted that she never communicated with the prospective buyer about the daughter’s medical condition and fabricated statements about his views on the daughter’s condition.
Ultimately, the sale fell through and the family sued the real estate agent and her agency for fair housing violations. Initially, a court dismissed the case, ruling that there wasn’t enough evidence that the daughter was disabled. Even if she were, the court ruled that agent’s statements about the daughter didn’t indicate a preference, limitation, or discrimination based on disability.
The family appealed.
What did the court decide?
COACH’S ANSWERS & EXPLANATIONS
Correct answer: a
Reason: Rules #1 & #3 apply here:
Rule #1: Watch What You Say
Rule #3: Hold Your Temper
It can get frustrating when dealing with residents—particularly if they’re starting to get nasty—but it’s important to keep your cool. If you lose your temper, you might say something that you later regret and make matters worse by triggering a fair housing complaint for making discriminatory statements.
Correct answer: a
Reason: Rule #6 applies here:
Rule #6: Don’t Express Unlawful Preferences in Advertising or Marketing
You could trigger a fair housing complaint for discriminatory advertising. Even if you don’t intend to discriminate against families with children, an ordinary reader could interpret the phrase “perfect for empty nesters” to suggest a preference for couples who don’t have children living at home—and against families with young children.
JUDGE FOR YOURSELF: ANSWER & EXPLANATION
In June 2015, a federal appeals court reversed, ruling that the real estate agent could be liable for making discriminatory statements based on disability. Contrary to the lower court ruling, the appeals court said there was enough evidence that the daughter had a disability and the statements in the agent’s text messages expressed a preference based on disability.
Regardless of whether the daughter was actually disabled, an “ordinary listener” could understand the agent’s statements to the mother as classifying her as such and expressing discrimination on that basis. In other words, it didn’t matter whether the individual being addressed was or was not disabled under the FHA; what mattered was whether the ordinary listener would understand the statements as considering her as such and expressing discrimination or a preference against her on that basis.
In the end, the “touchstone” of the case was the message conveyed, not the speaker’s intent. The court said that the agent responded to learning that the daughter had autism and epilepsy with a series of text messages stating concerns about renting to the family, including fear that their tenancy would be a liability. The ordinary listener, who “is neither the most suspicious nor the most sensitive of our citizenry,” very well could have interpreted the messages as stating a desire not to rent to the family because of the daughter’s disability [Rodriguez v. Village Green Realty, June 2015].
See The Lesson For This Quiz
|Complying with Fair Housing Rules Banning Discriminatory Statements|