The Grace Hill training tip of the week focuses on the issue of documentation to help property management professionals if HUD calls and to defend themselves in the event of a Fair Housing Act discrimination charge.
Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) awarded $37 million to more than 150 national and local organizations working to confront Fair Housing Act violations.
The enforcement will come through testing, filing fair housing complaints, and investigations by these organizations.
In order to successfully defend your decisions, policies, and practices, as well as demonstrate that all persons were treated the same, your documentation must be complete and contain relevant facts. This seems like a good time to talk about documentation.
If HUD calls, do you have documentation to defend yourself?
Documentation is extremely important if you find yourself dealing with an accusation of discrimination. You must be able to defend your decisions, policies, and practices, as well as demonstrate that all persons were treated the same, regardless of membership in one of the protected classes.
Accordingly, your documentation should offer a full accounting of facts. Describe all events and actions taken, all people involved, and provide specific dates and times.
Your documentation will not be effective if you do not keep the supporting paperwork: copies of service requests, guest cards, and availability reports. These records will be used to verify the dates and times of customer requests, availability changes, and rental rate changes.
When it comes to documentation, keep your records complete, organized, and on file for three to five years.
Tips for good documentation and record-keeping strategies
- Use guest cards for consistent documentation on all prospective residents who call or visit.
- Document all follow-up activity on the guest card.
- Follow up both verbally and in writing with anyone whose rental application is declined.
- Keep an organized file of your apartment availability reports.
- Document the dates and times of any rental rate changes.
- Keep all service requests on file. Be sure the work done, time completed, and technician’s name are noted on the request.
- Keep important documentation, including guest cards, declined applications, availability reports, dates and times of rental rate changes, and all service requests on file for at least three years, though preferably for five years.
Why keep records for three to five years?
It is becoming more common for unsuccessful HUD complaints to be filed as lawsuits.
In this case, the complainant has two years from the time the discriminatory housing practice ended or occurred to file a lawsuit.
However, the two years does not include any time in which administrative proceedings from the original HUD complaint were pending.
Also, if a conciliation agreement was reached between the two parties in a HUD discrimination claim, and the accused party violates the agreement, the complainant has two years from the time the agreement is violated to file a lawsuit.
So, long story short, proceedings related to a complaint could go on for a very long time!
Private organizations play a key role in enforcing fair housing laws, and that they are being provided with ammunition from the government to step up enforcement.
Of course, it is best to do all you can to prevent claims in the first place. But if it happens, good documentation can help make the process go as smoothly as possible.
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.
About Grace Hill
For nearly two decades, Grace Hill has been developing best-in-class online training courseware and administration solely for the Property Management Industry, designed to help people, teams and companies improve performance and reduce risk.