July 2014 Coach's Quiz
We’ve suggested five rules for addressing accusations or threats from unhappy applicants or residents. Now let’s look at how the rules might apply in the real world. Take the COACH’s Quiz to see what you’ve learned.
Instructions: In Judge for Yourself, we’ve summarized two recent court rulings on fair housing cases. Test yourself on whether the community should be liable for a fair housing violation, and then check the answers to see how much you’ve learned. Good luck!
Judge For Yourself #1:
In this case, an applicant filed a fair housing claim after being denied housing based on his poor financial and rental history.
Among other things, the community required applicants to meet certain screening criteria, including favorable references from the applicant’s two most previous landlords. If an applicant hadn’t rented for five years, the community would accept two personal references, other than family or friends, to provide the same type of information as typically asked of a former landlord. The community reserved the right to reject an applicant based on poor credit history and unfavorable landlord references.
In his application, the applicant revealed that he had previously filed for bankruptcy. He also indicated that he had been evicted from a previous residence, but he didn’t include any further information for previous landlords. He submitted three personal references, but they were all from friends.
He was placed on a waiting list, but after reviewing his application, the community determined that he didn’t meet its selection criteria and removed him from the waiting list.
The applicant asked the community to grant him reasonable accommodations by ignoring his previous eviction and bankruptcy. The community denied his requests because he didn’t explain how the accommodations were necessary because of a disability.
The applicant sued the community, the property management company, and individual employees—along with various federal agencies and employees—for violating fair housing law. During pretrial proceedings, the applicant admitted that he knew that eligibility for residency at the community was based on applicable income limits and management selection criteria. He also admitted that he was removed from the waiting list because of his prior eviction.
After reviewing all the evidence in the case, the community, the property manager, and the employees asked the court to dismiss the discrimination claims filed against them.
What did the court decide?
Judge For Yourself #2:
Discrimination Based on Familial Status?
In this case, a prospect filed a fair housing claim, alleging that she was denied housing based on familial status.
The case began when a prospect responded to an online ad and went to view an available three-bedroom unit. When she expressed interest in renting the unit, the property manager asked, “How many people are in the family?” The prospect said that there were five including herself and four kids—two boys and two girls. The manager said that he didn’t think the property owner would allow that many people to live in the unit.
The prospect asked for a rental application, but the manager said that he had to check with the owner first. The prospect said she called him back several times, but that the manager didn’t call her until a month later, when he left a message that he’d call her when another unit became available. In the meantime, the prospect alleged, the unit had been rented to three adult residents.
The prospect filed an administrative complaint, accusing the owner and manager of violating fair housing law by denying her housing due to her familial status, race, and national origin.
The property manager denied that he had discriminated against the prospect because of her family status, though he admitted that he asked her how many people would be living there and said that the owner may have a concern about the number of prospective residents based on the square footage of the unit.
After investigators found no substantial evidence of housing discrimination, the case was dismissed.
On appeal, a state official upheld that decision, ruling that the investigation did not reveal discrimination based on familial status or other protected characteristic. Among other things, the official noted that the landlord had historically rented to families with children, persons of color, and persons of Hispanic ancestry. The official also ruled that the property manager didn’t make a discriminatory statement, because expressing a concern about the number of people wouldn’t suggest to an ordinary listener that families with children were not preferred. The prospect appealed to court.
What did the court decide?