Late last month, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it settled another familial status Fair Housing Act (FHA) case pending against seven Michigan apartment complexes. The lawsuit, filed in November 2015, asserted that the defendants discriminated against families with children by prohibiting them from renting one bedroom units in the properties owned by the defendants. The evidence to support the discrimination claims was developed by a local fair housing advocacy group which sent testers posing as prospective renters visiting the various communities. Testers who inquired about renting an apartment with a child were told that children were not allowed in one bedroom units.
Under the terms of the consent decree entered into to conclude the case, the defendants agreed to establish a settlement fund of $20,000 to compensate victims of their discriminatory practices as well as pay a $5,000 civil monetary penalty to the United States. Next, the defendants agreed to eliminate the restrictions on renting to families with children at the properties they own and/or operate. Finally, the agreement mandated that the defendants inform residents of their new non-discriminatory policy and that the defendants take fair housing training to their staff and agents.
This case reminds us, once again, that fair housing testers are out there. And that DOJ will follow through if they believe the testing data has merit. Remember that any caller/visitor to your community could indeed be someone attempting to build a case against you and/or your property. The takeaway for management: treat every prospect with respect, follow the law, appropriately engage with them, complete paper (or electronic) guest cards, and always date/time stamp completed applications, Your annotated files could well be our best defense if such a case comes up at your property.
Just A Thought.