While our federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) contains seven protected classes (race, color, national origin, gender, religion, disability, and familial status), apartment management professionals know that in addition to federal law, we must be mindful of and follow the state and/or local laws involving fair housing where our communities are located. For example, depending on where you live, there might be additional protections for source of income, marital status, sexual orientation, and/or age.
To illustrate how these additional protected classes can come into play, a case was filed late last month in New York (based on a New York City law) alleging that management failed to rent to applicants who stated they had housing vouchers to pay their rent. As so often happens, a local fair housing advocacy group ran a series of tests to determine if indeed management was declining to accept vouchers, which if true, violates a New York City statute.
Now, I know there are always at least two sides to every story and this post is not intended to pass judgment on the facts. Indeed, I am a defense lawyer on the receiving end of many similar complaints. That being said, my point is that if your community is located in a source of income jurisdiction, ensure your leasing office team knows the local law and how to respond when an applicant asks if the property accepts vouchers. Training on this point can (and absolutely does) make a difference.
In this case, the judge issued a temporary restraining order (a “TRO” – legalese for an interim emergency order) requiring the plaintiffs be put on the waiting list where they would have been at the time they applied. While the entry of a TRO does not mean the defendants will be found liable, one of the factors that a court must consider when deciding whether or not to issue a TRO is if the applicant has demonstrated a “likelihood of success on the merits.” As the case continues, the plaintiffs will certainly be seeking: (a) an order declaring that the challenged housing practices violate the law; (b) money damages; (c) an injunction; and (d) attorney’s fees.
This is the housing discrimination playbook faced by management these days. While we cannot eliminate the risk of a discrimination complaint being filed at your property, fair housing training remains the best way to reduce the chance of needing to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just A Thought.