Can you decorate the rental office and other common questions about holiday decor and fair housing laws this time of year.
In the realm of property management, the scope of fair housing laws extends to holidays and the adornments associated with them. Ensuring adherence to these laws is paramount, and decisions should be grounded in the principles of fair housing rather than personal judgment.
Property management professionals often encounter holiday-related items that may be perceived as offensive or insensitive by some, yet do not contravene fair housing laws.
This poses a dilemma for industry experts. To navigate this challenge effectively, it is crucial to establish best practices regarding holidays and holiday decorations, beginning with a comprehensive understanding of how fair housing law applies to these scenarios. To start, let’s consider HUD’s stance on holiday decorations.
HUD Weighs In
On January 9th, 1995, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released a memorandum addressing Fair Housing holiday decorations. The memorandum titled, “Guidance Regarding Advertisements Under 804(c) of the Fair Housing Act” provides valuable insights into this matter. It states: “The use of secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays such as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or St. Valentine’s Day images, or phrases such as Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, or the like does not constitute a violation of the Act.”
So here we can see that HUD has essentially created two categories that decorations can be put under: secular and religious. So, while widely accepted secular decorations legally can be used, ones that represent a specific religion i.e., nativity scenes or The Star of David, should be avoided.
Now let’s consider some of the more common questions we come across as the holiday season approaches.
Common Holiday Decor And Fair Housing Questions
- Is it acceptable to festively decorate the rental office?
- What about common areas? Can they be decorated by staff or residents?
- Can property managers prohibit or restrict what or how residents decorate their doors or patios during the holidays?
Leasing Office and Common Areas
It is very common for people to get in the holiday spirit by decorating. But caution is needed when it comes to your leasing office and common areas. As stated above, HUD has clearly indicated that secular decorations are permissible. That being said, taking a step further is an even better best practice. What does that mean? Try to ensure that the decorations chosen represent a wide variety of cultures or religions to ensure that there is never an appearance of discrimination or favoritism. And, of course, strictly prohibit using religious symbols, be it imagery or text.
Personal Residences and Outdoor Spaces
This is where having clear policies and guidelines is incredibly important and helpful. Some properties don’t allow any decorations regardless of the time of year, making this a nonfactor. However, if your community does allow residents to decorate their doors, patios, or balconies, the only thing you can do as a housing provider is prevent residents from displaying anything deemed offensive.
A Few More Holiday Best Practices
Property management communities comprise diverse individuals with various religious and cultural backgrounds. It is imperative to ensure inclusivity when organizing festivities and social events, especially during the holidays. Every effort should be made to create gatherings that are welcoming to all community members. This includes the language you use on event flyers or other displayed materials. While not explicitly mandated, choosing words like “Happy Holidays” vs. “Merry Christmas” can align with the spirit of promoting equality and fostering a sense of community. Strive beyond mere compliance with the law to make everyone feel genuinely welcome.
Despite all precautions, complaints may arise. Addressing these issues with a thorough understanding of fair housing laws and their applicability is imperative. Take all complaints of religious discrimination seriously. Actively listen to residents, address their concerns, and meticulously document all interactions and resolutions. Protecting the rights of individuals in protected categories should be a top priority.
Holiday Decor And Fair Housing In Conclusion
Fair housing laws apply throughout the holiday season and year-round. Housing professionals must foster welcoming communities that embrace the principles of equality embodied in the Fair Housing Act. Solid policies and proper training will aid in adherence to the laws governing the holiday season and help ensure a happy and inclusive time for all.
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.