I saw a new batch of statistics which contained data on the number of fair housing complaints filed as well as the protected classes involved. This data further confirms what we in the industry have known for quite some time now: alleged discrimination based on a disability is, far and away, the most common protected class now used by individuals filing new fair housing complaints. While race discrimination cases formerly made up the highest percentage of complaints under our Fair Housing Act (FHA), once disability was added to the law as a protected class in 1988, the number of disability cases started – and now continues – to increase. Race discrimination cases are now much less common than are disability complaints (although, to be fair, I just got in a new race case last week). In fact, in my practice, well over 50% of my FHA cases now involve some type of disability and if management appropriately responded to a reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification request.
So, what is the takeway here for management? Engage with your residents when they make reasonable accommodation or reasonable modification requests. Respond in writing. The guidelines use the phrase “interactive process” and I find that works well. There are many times a solution can be found working together. Indeed, some requests have little (or no) cost to management. The absolute worst outcome is for the management office to not respond and then the resident (quite rightly) gets annoyed and frustrated. That is the resident who is going to file a complaint. Another tip: ignoring (even inadvertently) an accommodation request is even more difficult to defend if there is turnover in our management office as the person who knows something about the request is no longer employed and, at times, can be difficult to find and/or work with.
Again, even the best leasing office staff can have a complaint filed against us. It is the nature of our industry. Part of what management should be doing, however, is training our team members to work with our residents so that no request is unanswered. Training always makes a difference. Because if the office fails to address the request, you will really need to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.