Lesson Preview: Avoiding Fair Housing Problems in New Media

The November issue of Fair Housing Coach reviews fair housing rules as they apply to new media advertising and marketing.

To varying degrees, communities are turning to social media to attract new prospects, engage current residents to encourage renewals and generate referrals, and recruit tech-savvy employees. Wherever your community may be in the process, it’s easy to get so focused on the potential marketing benefits that you overlook fair housing considerations. Here are some tips from the November issue, available on www.FairHousingCoach.com, to address potential fair housing problems:

Comply with Fair Housing Rules in Online Advertising. Basic fair housing rules make it unlawful to advertise—whether in print or online—any preference for or against anyone based on a characteristic protected under federal, state, or local law.

Avoid Pitfalls on Community Web Site. Since the basic purpose of a Web site is to depict the advantages of living in the community, it’s the same as traditional forms of advertising under fair housing law, according to fair housing experts.

Develop a Social Media Policy. Create a policy with guidelines on the use of social media tools. Among other things, the policy should address fair housing concerns, so everyone understands the ramifications of posting comments or pictures that imply a preference for or against anyone based on a protected characteristic.

Don’t Abandon All Traditional Media. The benefits of online marketing may be alluring, but don’t abandon all traditional forms of media. Combining both traditional and new media demonstrates that your community has a broad, inclusive marketing strategy to reach a wide, diverse audience.

Don’t Engage in Email Profiling. Often, email addresses can provide insight into a prospect’s race, color, national origin, gender, familial status, religious affiliation—even disability. Ignoring or delaying a response to a prospect’s inquiry based on a protected characteristic gleaned from his email address could lead to a fair housing complaint.

Keep “TMI” at Bay. A quick online search could turn up all kinds of information about prospects and residents, including their race, sex, age, income level, and other demographic characteristics. For example, checking out their Facebook pages often provides TMI—Too Much Information—about their private lives, including photos, interests, friends, group affiliations, relationships, or lifestyle choices. It may be tempting to access this information, but it could lead to fair housing trouble if it’s misused to weed out applicants or make decisions about lease renewals.

Source: Fair Housing Coach, November 2011