Limited English Proficiency And The Fair Housing Act

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How you treat people with limited English proficiency, which could be a potential source of discrimination, is the topic this week of the Grace Hill training tip.

By Ellen Clark

Do you only let tenants submit maintenance tickets in English?

Do you prioritize requests from those who speak English over those who do not because it is easier and quicker?

Do you provide poor translations of leases because it is easy and cheap?

Suddenly, whether you meant to or not, you’ve essentially discriminated based on national origin, which is illegal under the Fair Housing Act.

It is estimated that over 25 million people in the United States have limited English proficiency or LEP.

A person with limited English proficiency may not speak, read, write, or understand English as well as a person who grew up with English as their first language.

About 80% of LEP people in the U.S. in 2013 were born in a foreign country. Being from another country does not automatically mean a person has LEP, of course, but there is a strong connection between LEP and national origin.

Why is this important?

Imagine you have a policy or practice that treats limited English proficiency people differently

  • Maybe you only let residents submit maintenance tickets in English to make things easier on your maintenance staff
  • Perhaps you translate leases and other documents with Google translate because it is free and you can’t afford a good translator
  • Maybe you take resident maintenance requests out of order so someone who speaks the same language can help an LEP customer

Remember the statistic mentioned earlier that about 80% of LEP people in the U.S. in 2013 were born in a foreign country?  This means four out of five people affected by the policy or practice that treats LEP people differently will be people born in other countries. Suddenly,

So how can you avoid policies and practices that have a disparate impact on people who are LEP? Here’s what HUD recommends:

  • Never refuse to work with people who are not fluent in English. Claiming you don’t have the resources won’t hold up as a justification for your actions.
  • Treat everyone the same, regardless of whether they have difficulty speaking English or speak with an accent.
  • Allow enough time for prospects to review leases and other documents, particularly those who may need to translate it to review it properly.
  • Don’t provide poor translations. Your intentions might be good, but a poor translation can be confusing and misleading.
  • Don’t restrict the languages that can be spoken in your community. An “English Only” mandate is unnecessary, unwelcoming, and discriminatory.

For more information about working with LEP customers, see Grace Hill’s Fair Housing and Limited English Proficiency mini-course.

Read Ellen’s full blog post here.

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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. Contact Grace Hill at 866.472.2344 to hear more.

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