Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced yet another settlement in a Fair Housing Act (FHA) case, this time for $130,000 concerning a community in Indiana in which was alleged to have discriminated against families with children. Under the terms of the proposed settlement (which still must be approved by a federal judge), the defendants must pay $100,000 into a settlement fund to compensate victims and another $30,000 to the United States as a civil money penalty. Furthermore, the defendants are required to implement a non-discrimination policy and participate in FHA training.
The case, filed in May 2015, asserted that the community and its owner violated the FHA by maintaining and enforcing a policy of refusing to permit families with children to live in a 173 lot mobile home park. The claims were based on evidence from DOJ’s fair housing tester program, in which individuals posed as applicants to collect information about potentially discriminatory housing practices.
With respect to specifics, the DOJ alleged that the first tester called and asked about the availability of a home for him alone. The tester was told a lot was available. Five days later, according to the complaint, a female tester called, asking about a lot for herself, her husband, and their minor son. DOJ claimed that the defendant stated no lots were available for the family as no one under the age of 40 was permitted to live at the park. The second tester then called back later that same day to confirm that, in fact, residents had to be at least 40 years old to live in the park.
The takeaway: our leasing office staff members need to know that fair housing testers are out there. The government and private agencies hire individuals to probe leasing office practices. As professional apartment management, we really only have two choices: (1) get trained and follow the law; or (2) play roulette and hope the wheel does not land on you and your property. As a defense lawyer, my accounting department hopes management gets caught and then you will really need a lawyer like me. My view remains we should do a little fair housing training and do our level best to get it right.
Just A Thought.