Will You Pass the Test?
In our November 2012 lesson, “Be Prepared for Fair Housing Testers,” the Coach reviews recent developments that point to a renewed emphasis on traditional fair housing testing. With the influx of millions in HUD funding earlier this year, state and local enforcement agencies and private fair housing organizations are gearing up to recruit, train, and deploy fair housing testers. Now more than ever, it’s important to ensure your community complies with fair housing law—that way, you’ll be likely to pass any fair housing test.
Here are some tips from the November lesson to help you avoid problems if your community is ever subjected to fair housing testing. See our homepage or online Archive for the full lesson and quiz.
Treat all prospects as if they were fair housing testers. On any given day, you’re likely to have many interactions with prospective residents, including phone calls, email inquiries, Internet communications, or visits to your community. Our fair housing experts warn that you may never know when one of these encounters is part of a fair housing test. So why take chances? Treat everyone who contacts your community as if he was part of a fair housing test. Keep personal biases out of the leasing office and treat all prospects with professionalism and courtesy, starting with the initial contact—whether online, on the phone, or during visits to your property.
Incorporate fair housing into your community’s “SOP.” Make compliance with fair housing an integral part of your community’s standard operating procedures. Making your community available to any prospect who meets objective criteria to rent meets your legal obligations under fair housing laws. And by distinguishing your reputation as an equal housing provider, you’ll decrease the risk of being targeted for fair housing testing based on suspicions about discriminatory policies or practices.
Ensure consistency in the leasing office. Put in place standard, nondiscriminatory rental policies to ensure that prospects are treated fairly and consistently from the moment they contact your leasing office. For example, testing is often focused on differences in the information provided to prospects about the availability of units, so it’s important to ensure that leasing agents have accurate, up-to-date information about vacancies.
Provide fair housing training to all employees. All your employees, from your leasing staff to service workers in your maintenance, housekeeping, and landscaping operations, should receive periodic fair housing training. Although most testing efforts are addressed to your leasing office, interactions with any employee who interacts with the public could lead to a discrimination complaint, which in turn could trigger a fair housing test.
Shop your property. Shopping yourself—either by internal means or by hiring an outside shopping service—is one of the best ways to ensure that you won’t be caught off-guard from the results of a fair housing test. It’s an effective tool to monitor whether your employees are complying with fair housing laws and to identify any weaknesses—either in an employee’s performance or in the effectiveness of your training program.
For more tips and detailed information about fair housing testing, see our November 2012 lesson, “Be Prepared for Fair Housing Testers,” on our homepage or in our online Archive.