The beginning of the year is always a good time to check in to see how many and what type of housing discrimination complaints were filed in the previous year. While HUD has not released final numbers for 2016, the most recent annual data reveals:

HUD’s annual fair housing budget remains well over $60 million. In 2015, HUD (and its partner agencies) completed 8,249 fair housing investigations, which was essentially flat as compared with 8,361 investigations in 2014. Of those complaints, allegations based on disability discrimination accounted for more than 55% of all the claims filed. Racial discrimination claims are the second most frequent, making up over 25% of the filed complaints. Discrimination based on familial status, sex, national origin, and retaliation come next, representing between 8% and 11% respectively. Complaints involving religion (less than 3%) and color (less than 2%) are the least frequently filed. (Yes, the numbers add up to over 100% because some complainants assert more than one protected class).

Now, while our federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) contains seven protected classes, remember that various state, city, and county fair housing laws can (and do) contain additional protected classes – including source of income, age, marital status, sexual orientation, and the like. As such, even if conduct is not covered by the FHA, you need to know the laws of the jurisdiction in which your property sits.  Literally millions of dollars were paid to complainants (as well as civil money penalties were paid to the United States) by apartment owners/managers resolving these complaints.

What do these figures mean to the professional apartment management business? HUD, state, city, and county agencies (along with their private fair housing partner advocacy groups) are out there checking to ensure we do it right. Something as simple as putting an advertisement on the internet has been the source of three complaints sent to me over the past year. One state agency and two fair housing groups were searching various apartment listing sites online looking for potential violations of the law. In 2016, I also saw an explosion of service/companion animal inquiries. Some are absolutely valid. Others are fraudulent. I have a number of clients who are now appropriately pushing back against companion animal verifications/registrations which are simply purchased over the internet to anyone with a credit card for the low, low price of $69.99 (or more if you need a letter in a rush).

Finally, we still do not know how fair housing compliance will change with a new administration. As I wrote last week, I expect Dr. Ben Carson to be confirmed as the next Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Perhaps once he takes office we will get a better read on his fair housing enforcement priorities.

How can you best avoid fair housing complaints? Always remember to engage in the interactive process with your residents/applicants. That is, in my experience, the best way not to need to speak with a lawyer like me. Many issues can be involved with some time and attention. Fair housing training is also important to help catch problems before they occur.

Just A Thought.

 

I want to give a tip of the cap to the 2016 IREM (Institute of Real Estate Management) Tri-State Conference and Expo held this week at the Borgata Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City, NJ. Your humble Fair Housing Defense blog editor was pleased to be a featured speaker discussing issues of interest to those in the professional housing management arena.

Our discussion concerned everything from the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision involving disparate impact and fair housing as well as service animals (and the rise in potentially false internet medical verifications), reasonable accommodations, reasonable modifications, medical marijuana, documentation of interactions with residents, and the change in the types of cases I have seen over the years.

In short, it is always useful for me to get out of the office and speak with property management professionals who are on the job each day providing housing so I can better learn the issues faced in leasing offices from around the country. Indeed, as my goal with this blog is to give a management perspective on the major fair housing issues of the day, meeting with regional property managers and community managers in sessions like this is just invaluable to that effort.  As long as the invitations keep coming, I will be pleased to continue to speak.  What lawyer turns down an opportunity like that?

Just A Thought.

Earlier this year I commented on a report from HUD’s Inspector General (the Department’s internal watchdog) which severely criticized HUD’s current policy which permits individuals who are designated as “over income” to remain in public housing.

Blog readers may recall that the report found that more than 25,000 residents made more than the maximum income allowed to qualify for public housing.  Now, while many of the “over income” residents exceeded the limit by a small amount, the audit revealed that nearly half were over the threshold by $10,000 to $70,000.  And what really drove the findings were that a few residents were glaringly over the limits:  such as a family of four in New York City with an income of just under $500,000 who is paying under $1,600 for a three-bedroom subsidized unit.

A Florida congressman remains unsatisfied with HUD’s response on this issue and is threatening to withhold $104 million from HUD’s annual budget.  Why $104 million?  Because that is the amount HUD’s inspector general reported is wasted on subsidizing “over income” residents taken from a sample of 15 local housing authorities.

After reversing course, HUD subsequently stated that local housing authorities can indeed move to evict “over income” residents.  But when the congressman checked with various housing authorities, he reported he was told that HUD would essentially not permit the evictions.  His solution?  Threaten to withhold federal funds.

Part of this, of course, is taxpayer money and how that money should be spent in an era of ever tighter federal budgets.  Fiscal watchdogs will assert that the rules need to be followed and if someone now earns more than the guidelines for public housing, he or she should be congratulated on their success and make plans to live elsewhere.  On the other side, public housing advocates will likely take the position that limited “income diversity” in affordable housing is a good thing and that it makes no sense to evict residents from their homes as that cuts against the very nature of why the federal housing programs exist in the first place.

I suspect this is an issue HUD does not enjoy being highlighted and I doubted HUD (through various Housing Authorities and private landlords) would actively start evicting residents.  I still think that will be the case, but let’s see what happens next.  $100 million is a big number and the administration will oppose such a cut.

Just A Thought.

As apartment owners and managers, from time to time, we get investigated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  Which is fine.  Every once in a while, however, HUD gets investigated as well.  Just recently, HUD’s Inspector General (its internal watchdog) released a report which severely criticized HUD’s current policy which permits individuals who are designated as “over income” to remain in public housing.

Following a torrent of criticism, HUD has now reversed course and is providing new guidance, urging Housing Authorities to evict residents who no longer qualify for subsidized housing. The report found that more than 25,000 residents make more than the maximum income allowed to qualify for public housing.  Now, while many of the “over income” residents exceeded the limit by a small amount, the audit revealed that nearly half were over the threshold by $10,000 to $70,000.  And what really drove the findings were that a few residents were glaringly over the limits:  such as a family of four in New York City with an income of just under $500,000 who is paying under $1,600 for a three-bedroom subsidized unit.

When the report was first made public, HUD harshly objected to the findings and asserted that “income diversity” in public housing was a good thing and that people should strive to earn more money, but not lose their eligibility for affordable housing.  HUD also stated that the number of over income families was less than three percent of those in public housing.  After hearing from many other voices (to put it mildly) following its initial comments (particularly when the most egregious examples were publicized and are so much harder to defend), HUD is changing its policy to now support removing over income individuals, particularly when affordable housing waiting lists continue to grow, from affordable housing.

I don’t suspect HUD (through various Housing Authorities and private landlords) will actively start evicting very many residents, but it was interesting to watch this debate continue to play out.  Indeed, nobody enjoys the investigative process.  Not even HUD.

Just A Thought.

Once a year here at the Fair Housing Defense blog I go off topic.  Today is that post.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July.  Cookouts with family and friends.  Maybe a baseball game. (Indeed, I will be at the Nationals/Cubs game in Washington).  Fireworks.  A picnic.  A red, white, and blue parade.  Flags everywhere.  Everything that is right about America.   And a reminder just how lucky we are to live in this great country.  So:

If you see a member of the United States military, thank him or her for their service.  I do not pretend to understand the details of the political situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, but I know our soldiers have done everything asked, requested, and required of them.  And more.

If you are with your kids and see a police officer, remind your son or daughter that police officers work every day to keep us safe.

Similarly, if you go by a fire station, let your kids know that firefighters are the people who literally rush into burning buildings to get the rest of us out of them in an emergency.

Finally, if you have not spoken with your mother or father (or brother or sister) for a while, pick up the phone.  You should do it in any event, but particularly make a call today if there is a petty disagreement that has been lingering for too long.

You will be glad you did.

Just A Thought.

When I started this Fair Housing Defense blog, I had no idea if anyone would actually read it.  Well, that’s not exactly true.  I knew my Mom would read it.  One of my early entries (okay, since you asked — from October 23, 2009) noted that we have been Up and Running for a few months.  And I gave my mother a "Hi Mom!" shout out.  Of course, a couple of days later my Mom called, roaring with laughter and very excited that I mentioned her in my new blog. 
 
Mom has since passed away.  I did not write about it at the time she died, as I wanted to keep this professional.  However, upon reflection, that may have been a mistake.  While my Mom was my first (and most important) reader, I am gratified that so many of you read this space every month.
 
As such, while I am down one reader — I will keep writing in her memory.  And, if I might go off topic for a minute, for those of you with Mom’s and Dad’s still alive — why not pick up the phone just to say hello right now?  You will be glad you did.
 
Just A Thought.