Fair Housing Discrimination Against Someone You’ve Never Talked To?

The Grace Hill training tip of the week focuses on the issue of potential fair housing discrimination against someone you have never talked to.

By Ellen Clark

When you think about upholding Fair Housing Act laws, you probably think about treating people fairly and equally when they come in for a tour, or as you interact with them as potential tenants.

But did you ever think if you fail to answer an email, you end up on the wrong side of a fair housing claim without ever interacting with a person?

Fair housing laws protect people from discrimination throughout all stages of your interactions, not just after they become your tenant or residents of your apartment community.

From the first contact, whether by phone call, email, text, or in-person, you are responsible for upholding fair housing laws and treating all people in a non-discriminatory manner.

In fact, it is possible for you to discriminate against someone without ever having direct contact with that person.

That may seem unlikely, but let’s explore how that could happen.

If an employee fails to respond to an email due to an assumption about the sender’s race, that behavior could be considered discrimination.

How discrimination could happen against someone you’ve never talked to

Here are a couple of examples to consider:

    • A maintenance technician skips over a service ticket for a devout Christian family with a reputation for talking openly about their religion because he anticipates feeling uncomfortable. The maintenance technician’s behavior could be considered discrimination based on religion, even though the maintenance technician never directly interacted with the resident.
    • A leasing agent gets an email from a prospective resident with a name that she assumes is Asian. The agent does not respond to the email because the community’s residents are mostly African American and she feels the prospective resident probably wouldn’t fit in. This behavior could be considered discrimination based on race, even though the leasing agent never directly interacted with the prospective resident.

Consistency and training are key to ensuring that your teams are upholding fair housing laws and treating people in a non-discriminatory manner.

 How can you guard against discrimination happening?

Consistency and training are good places to start.

Consistency is key in dealing with fair housing issues.

It is best to behave consistently with everyone you assist, and everyone who is seeking assistance from you even if you haven’t interacted with them yet. This means phone messages, emails, web inquiries, and service requests. If you make an exception to any policy or procedure, make sure you provide the same information and options to all prospects and residents who are in the same situation.

All staff members who interact with residents and prospective residents, or who handle requests or inquiries of any kind, should be trained on fair housing laws.

It is recommended that newly hired staff receive fair housing training before they work with customers. Vendors and contractors who could possibly interact with your residents should be informed of your company’s fair housing policy and asked to abide by fair housing laws. All personnel should refresh their fair housing knowledge at least annually.

It never hurts to run through scenarios with your employees, including those like the ones above, to ensure that they understand that it is important to think about upholding fair housing laws at all times, not just when they are face-to-face or otherwise directly interacting with prospective or current residents.

About the author:

Ellen Clark is the Director of Assessment at Grace Hill.  Her work has spanned the entire learner lifecycle, from elementary school through professional education. She spent over 10 years working with K12 Inc.’s network of online charter schools – measuring learning, developing learning improvement plans using evidence-based strategies, and conducting learning studies. Later, at Kaplan Inc., she worked in the vocational education and job training divisions, improving online, blended and face-to-face training programs, and working directly with business leadership and trainers to improve learner outcomes and job performance. Ellen lives and works in Maryland, where she was born and raised.