As professional apartment community owners and managers, we try hard to get it right. Combating housing discrimination is part of what we do. It would be naïve, however, to think that errors do not occur. We must be vigilant and we must keep good records. Following the Fair Housing Act and its implementing regulations are prerequisites for anyone in our field.
In addition to following the law, there is another reason not to discriminate: there are many community fair housing and testing entities out there looking to catch us making a mistake. These testers call and/or visit our properties to determine if they can claim discrimination. And then they file a complaint with HUD or a state agency. And then I get involved.
One way to test management is to have, for example, an African American call the property seeking an apartment and then have a Caucasian call later in the day seeking the same type of unit. The testers will compare and contrast how they believe each caller was treated. While I have serious questions concerning how leasing office staff members are expected to tell the race or national origin of a person based on a single call (and I have successfully defended against these types of cases), you need to know they are out there. In fact, in one recent study, the testing agency concluded that 54% of the testers “sounding” African American were treated less favorably than the testers “sounding” Caucasian. That is an extraordinary figure and even if only a portion of the findings are accurate, management needs to know these testers are looking to file cases.
To be sure, I have seen a number of cases in which the reason for the alleged different treatment was simply because the apartment in question was leased during the interim time between the two calls. If someone else puts a deposit down, the apartment simply is no longer available. And what could have been unlawful discrimination was simply benign leasing office business.
It sounds simple but it is always worth repeating: treat all applicants the same. Keep good records.
Just A Thought.