Answering questions and communicating with prospects and residents is part of the job. But what we say or write can either be fair housing compliant or leave us open to a fair housing complaint.
Today, communication comes in so many different shapes and sizes. Beyond in-person conversations or telephone calls, we now field emails, social media messages, and website messenger services or chatbots.
Regardless of the forms of communication your company uses, you need to ensure that all staff members have adequate fair-housing training when replying to questions. How an employee answers can cause a prospect to have unrealistic expectations of your community, or worse yet, any contradictions in information can be assumed to be a result of housing discrimination.
Common Questions Received in a Leasing Office
The list of questions below by no means covers all of the questions you will face. However, it does give you an idea of how a query can quickly turn into a fair-housing compliance issue. How would you answer the following questions?
- Do you have any three-bedroom apartments?
- What are your screening criteria?
- What kind of people live in your community?
- Are there a lot of kids in your community?
- My friend from church lives here. Are you a Christian community?
- I have an emotional support animal. Do you have a no-pets policy?
- Is your community safe?
Let’s review a few different scenarios.
One of the most common issues occurs when a prospect calls and is told there are specific units available. But later, upon arriving at the property, they are informed that those units are no longer available. This incident could result in a fair-housing complaint. How can this risk be managed?
Staff members whose responsibility it is to answer these questions must be careful to convey accurate information and explain that the information is valid only for that specific time. For example, simply adding the terms “today” or “currently” along with a brief explanation that availability is constantly changing gives an accurate representation of what is available at the time of the inquiry.
How would you respond to a question regarding whether there are children in the community? Whether you love kids or not, it would be inappropriate to directly answer this question. Instead, the answer should be that you have a diverse community, and you would love to take the prospect on a tour so they can see for themselves.
Another protected category is people with disabilities. How would you handle a question regarding your pet policy and an emotional support animal? While many have opinions on this topic, not all are fair-housing compliant. The simplest way to handle this situation is to clearly state your property’s policy regarding animals followed by, if needed/requested, the fact that a reasonable accommodation for residents with disabilities who have assistance animals can be completed. Keep in mind as well that breed restrictions or size restrictions do not apply to service animals.
Fair Housing Compliance = Training
We have only considered a few scenarios here. But this highlights how communication can be either fair-housing compliant or open you up to a fair-housing complaint. The best way to avoid violating fair-housing laws when communicating with prospects or residents is to train, train, train!
Everyone on your team needs to be aware of how to handle questions, whether they respond personally or need to redirect to a more qualified person. Practice sessions that include role-playing can be beneficial. Also, having response sheets for the more fundamental questions can aid in the continuity of responses. Regular fair housing training is the key to communication compliance.
About the author:
In 2005, The Fair Housing Institute was founded as a company with one goal: to provide educational and entertaining fair-housing compliance training at an affordable price at the click of a button.