National Real Estate Firm Settles Claims of Discrimination Against Deaf Prospects
A national real estate company, which controls more than 64,000 units in 15 states, recently agreed to pay $175,000 to settle allegations that its communities in Texas and Georgia denied housing to deaf people. HUD announced that it negotiated the agreement between the Greensboro, N.C.-based company and three fair housing organizations: the National Fair Housing Alliance, the Austin Tenants’ Council, and the National Association of the Deaf.
The organizations claimed that the company discriminated against rental applicants who were deaf or hard of hearing based on a series of fair housing tests performed in Savannah, Ga., and Austin, Texas, in 2013. Testers posing as rental applicants who were deaf or hard of hearing called to inquire about rental units using the Internet Protocol (IP) Relay system, which allows deaf or hard of hearing individuals to communicate with hearing persons via phone using computer text. Multiple tests were conducted over a period of several months.
The organizations claimed that agents for the company hung up on testers who used the IP Relay system or sent their calls directly to voicemail; in contrast, agents accepted calls from testers not using the IP Relay system. When agents spoke with testers using the IP Relay system, they allegedly quoted higher rental prices and didn’t offer the same specials and amenities they offered to testers who did not use the IP Relay system. Agents also allegedly failed to follow up with testers who used the IP Relay system.
“Testing exposes housing discrimination that might otherwise go undetected,” Dave Ziaya, HUD’s Acting Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement. “The Fair Housing Act protects all potential renters, including those who are deaf or hard of hearing. HUD will continue to enforce the law to ensure that no one is denied housing because they have a disability.”
The agreement calls for the company to pay $175,000 to the National Fair Housing Alliance, including $25,000 in attorneys’ fees. The company also agreed to provide both newly hired and current employees with fair housing training, including the use of assistive technology for the deaf and hard of hearing, such as telecommunications relay services.
In addition, the company agreed to adopt and distribute a written policy addressing equal access to housing opportunities for applicants with disabilities, including deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals, which outlines the correct handling of telecommunications relay calls and other types of communications with deaf and hard-of-hearing individuals. The company will pay $15,000 to the National Association of the Deaf for consulting services in the development of these policies.
You can find more guidance on this topic in the Coach’s lesson “How to Comply with Fair Housing Law When Dealing with People Who Are Deaf or Hard of Hearing,” available to subscribers here.