Training Mandated by Recent Fair Housing Settlements
Mandatory training was a key feature in recent settlements of lawsuits filed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) against rental property owners and managers. The training requirements in these settlements were intended to remedy allegations of actual discrimination, but any community may consider them as guideposts to implement similar training requirements on their own—as a way to both ward off similar problems and demonstrate their commitment to fair housing practices.
Alleged discriminatory rental practices
Recently, the owners of a 100-unit apartment complex in Arkansas settled a fair housing case filed by the DOJ, which accused them of refusing to rent units to families with children.
The accusations stemmed from a DOJ investigation using fair housing testers. When the testers asked about the availability of two-bedroom units, rental agents allegedly asked the testers whether they had children and how many people would be staying in the unit. During several of the tests, the rental agents allegedly told the prospect that the complex did not have or allow children. According to the complaint, testers who told rental agents that they had children were denied additional information on unit availability, not offered the opportunity to view any units, and not given applications.
To settle the case, the owners had to agree to pay up to $165,000 in damages to the alleged victims of discrimination, plus $20,000 in civil penalties. In addition, the owners had to agree to numerous corrective measures, including training, a nondiscrimination policy, record keeping, and monitoring.
The settlement also required the owners, their managers, and any agents and employees involved in showing, renting, and managing their units to “undergo in-person training on the Fair Housing Act, with specific emphasis on discrimination on the basis of familial status.” The owners had to pay for the training, and the trainer had to be an independent, qualified third party, approved in advance by the DOJ.
Finally, the settlement called for proof of compliance by requiring the owners to get from the trainer certificates of attendance, executed by each individual who received the training, confirming their attendance. The certificate had to include the name of the course, the date it was taken, and either the length of the course or the time within which it was completed [U.S. v. Adams, October 2007].
Alleged discrimination by maintenance worker
The owners of a rental property in Missouri settled a fair housing case filed by the DOJ involving allegations of discrimination based on race and sex by a maintenance worker.
The case stemmed from a complaint by an African-American female resident who claimed that the white male maintenance worker (the owners' son) subjected her to extensive, continuous, unwelcome, and uninvited sexual harassment, as well as racial harassment. According to the complaint, the owners allegedly knew or should have known of the worker's discriminatory conduct, and they not only failed to take action to curtail or prevent it but also retaliated against the resident for complaining about it.
To settle the case, the owners had to pay $15,000 to the resident, establish a nondiscrimination policy, and undergo fair housing training. The settlement required the owners to “implement a fair housing training and education program for any and all individuals who shall have responsibility for managing, renting, performing maintenance, or performing other responsibilities on a regular basis at any rental property [they] owned or managed….”
The settlement required the owners and any employees, including the maintenance worker, to attend “a fair housing training program conducted by a qualified civil rights organization to be selected by Defendants, subject to approval by the United States.”
Under the settlement, the owners had to pay for the training program on the nondiscrimination requirements of the FHA, particularly its prohibitions on discrimination based on race or sex and retaliation. Upon completion of the program, each individual had to sign a written statement verifying that he had attended the training and the date on which it was completed [U.S. v. Norman, February 2006].