Make Sure Maintenance Services Don’t Trigger Fair Housing Claims

The May 2012 Fair Housing Coach explains how to ensure compliance with fair housing laws when providing maintenance and repair services in multifamily housing communities.

Maintenance operations are among the most overlooked sources of fair housing complaints. Communities may face allegations of discriminatory maintenance policies or procedures—for example, that requests from white residents are routinely pushed ahead of those from minority residents. Or complaints may stem from accusations of sexual harassment or discrimination by a single individual—a member of your maintenance staff or an outside contractor. And increasingly, maintenance operations are implicated in requests for reasonable accommodations or modifications by individuals with disabilities—for example, requests to alter the interior of a unit or common area to make it accessible for a resident in a wheelchair or to refrain from using pesticides from a resident with disabling chemical sensitivities.

Here are some tips from the May Coach to help ward off fair housing claims from maintenance operations:

Provide all employees with basic fair housing training. All employees—including maintenance workers, housekeeping employees, landscaping crews, pool attendants, fitness center staff, and the like—should understand the basics of fair housing law.

Adopt uniform policies for handling maintenance and repair requests. In general, it’s a good idea to handle maintenance and repair requests on a first-come, first-served basis—unless the request involves an emergency. Develop a written policy that defines what is—and is not—considered an emergency that would justify an immediate response.

Take reasonable accommodation requests seriously. Emergencies are not the only times that justify making an exception to the first-come, first-served policy for handling maintenance and repair requests. In some cases, a maintenance or repair request may require immediate attention if it qualifies as a reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability.

Take steps to prevent sexual harassment. Community owners have a duty to ensure that their employees, agents, or contractors do not engage in sexual harassment, according to HUD. A property owner or manager may be held liable if he knew or should have known that an employee, agent, or contractor is sexually harassing applicants or residents, but failed in his duty to stop it.

Carefully select and monitor outside contractors. Since owners and managers may be held responsible for fair housing violations committed by vendors or contractors, it’s important to exercise due diligence in selecting outside contractors to perform services at your community.

Keep good records to fend off fair housing claims. Good record keeping is essential to help prevent—and defend against—any fair housing complaints with respect to how your community handles maintenance and repair requests.

The complete May lesson and quiz are available on our homepage; click on “How to Keep Maintenance Services from Triggering Fair Housing Claims.”