COACH’s Pop Quiz!

Q: If you say “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” to prospects or residents this time of year, then you could be accused of—and a court could find you liable for—religious discrimination under fair housing law. True or false?

A: False. Housing providers must abide by fair housing law, which bans discrimination based on religion, but you don’t have to be a “Grinch” by ignoring the holidays or outlawing seasonal decorations out of fear of a discrimination complaint. The key is to celebrate the general festivity of the season without promoting a particular religion or particular religious holiday. In that way, you’ll satisfy fair housing concerns by showing that your community welcomes everyone—regardless of their religious practices or beliefs.

You can’t go wrong with secular messages, such as “Season’s Greetings” or “Happy Holidays,” but you won’t be accused of religious discrimination if you wish prospects or residents a “Merry Christmas.” In a 1995 memo on advertising, HUD says that the use of secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays—such as Santa Claus or “Merry Christmas”—do not violate fair housing law.

And see the Coach’s December lesson, Make Everyone Feel at Home During the Holidays,” for seven tips on how to avoid potential fair housing problems during the holiday season.