As professional apartment management team members, we MUST appropriately document the files of our residents. There just is no excuse not to get that part of fair housing compliance right in our daily business operations. In this space (and elsewhere) I have made clear that retaliation against someone because he or she has filed a fair housing complaint is against the law. Furthermore, it is also a violation of our Fair Housing Act (FHA) to retaliate against someone because he or she provided information or otherwise assisted with a housing discrimination complaint. HUD and various state, city, and county agencies always are on watch for retaliation claims because they go to the heart of discrimination actions. Everyone with me so far?
But, because someone files a complaint…does that mean he or she can stop following the rules? Or stop paying rent? What should management do? Our laws are clear that just because someone files a fair housing complaint does not mean that person is immune from following the rules. That being said, always know that if management moves to evict a resident after the resident has filed a discrimination complaint (even if the eviction is for a nondiscriminatory valid reason such as failure to pay rent), that complaint is going to get amended to add a retaliation claim (or a second complaint for retaliation will be filed). Which is part of my job to defend against and which I can and will do, PROVIDED THAT management has appropriately documented the file so we can affirmatively prove that we are not retaliating. Make no mistake, the burden will be on us to show we did it right. Indeed, many fair housing investigators will ask me not to proceed with an eviction until the first complaint is resolved. I evaluate each of those requests on a case by case basis, depending on the specific facts and what is in the files.
Now, do we make mistakes with our files? Sure, sometimes. However, more often than not, I see a meritless retaliation complaint filed in an effort by a resident to prevent what would otherwise be a valid eviction. And if I do not have the appropriate documentation, our collective jobs will be that much harder.
Just A Thought.