Protecting Your Community from Race Discrimination Claims

In honor of Martin Luther King Day, the January 2012 lesson of Fair Housing Coach focuses on discrimination based on race—the bedrock of fair housing law. For much of the law’s history, the majority of formal fair housing complaints were based on race. Although disability claims now hold the top spot, race discrimination complaints remain a close second—accounting for roughly a third of all formal fair housing complaints.

Federal fair housing enforcement officials and fair housing advocates remain vigilant for racial discrimination in housing. Federal funding earmarked for fair housing initiatives have led to increased testing, often triggering lawsuits—and large cash settlements for damages and penalties.

Here are some tips from January’s lesson to avoid the pitfalls that can lead to race discrimination claims:

Keep Race Out of the Leasing Process. It’s illegal to allow race to play any part in decisions about who may live in your community. Fair housing law prohibits communities from refusing to rent or making housing unavailable to anyone based on his race—or that of his household members or anyone associated with them. And since it also outlaws unequal treatment in the application process, it’s important to apply racially neutral policies, procedures, and qualification standards for leasing units in the community.

Focus on Employee Training. Adopting solid nondiscriminatory policies is a good first step, but effective employee training is required to put them in action. For example, make sure that all employees understand that they could trigger a fair housing complaint by comments—offhand or otherwise—that express a preference for or against someone based on race.

Prevent Personal Biases from Derailing Fair Housing Efforts. Even the best policies and training won’t protect your community from fair housing problems if an employee’s personal biases are allowed to spill into the leasing office or elsewhere in the community. Stress the importance of treating prospects, applicants, and residents the same, regardless of race, starting with the first contact—whether it’s in person, by telephone, or by email or other online contact.

Make Sure Rules Are Fair—and Enforced Fairly. Fair housing claims often stem from adverse actions taken against residents for violating lease provisions or community policies or rules. In some cases, it’s a claim of “disparate treatment—that is, that the rules are being selectively enforced against a resident because of his race. Less commonly, it’s a claim of “disparate impact,” where seemingly neutral rules have a disproportionate effect on racial minorities or other protected groups. Avoid either claim by making sure that your community’s rules are fair—and enforced consistently—regardless of race, color, or other protected characteristic.

Look for the complete lesson, with examples and the Coach’s Quiz, on our home page.

Source: Fair Housing Coach, January 2012