Below you will find an article written by guest blogger, Ron Leshnower. Ron is an attorney and an expert in fair housing law. He provides advice to clients around the country and conducts training on fair housing for private clients and at public conferences. You will find his contact information at the end of this piece. You will find it worth the read.
Debunking the Myths Surrounding the Importance of Fair Housing Training
Many owners and managers of multifamily apartment buildings operate in the dark when it comes to understanding their responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act. This may seem surprising, given that compliance is so important and training is so affordable.
But a lack of training is often attributed to a belief in one or more myths surrounding its importance. As a result, even housing providers with the best intentions unwittingly subject themselves to a high risk of fair housing liability at their properties.
Here are six common fair housing training myths, debunked. If you’ve been putting off fair housing training, you may find one or more of these myths familiar.
Myth #1: There’s not much at stake.
Property owners and managers actually have much at stake when it comes to fair housing compliance. In addition to an order to pay damages and attorney’s fees, a HUD administrative law judge may assess a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for the first offense, and up to $65,000 for a third violation in seven years. In more egregious instances of discrimination, a court can impose punitive damages. Aside from financial concerns, a fair housing complaint puts a business’ reputation at risk. As a case wears on, negative press coverage could discourage good tenants from applying for an apartment at a community, hurting the owner’s bottom line.
Myth #2: There’s nothing to worry about as long as you remain committed to treating people fairly.
Some people think that fair housing law is merely a codification of the notion of equal treatment and so, they reason, if they keep this guiding principle in mind, then their statements, actions, policies, and procedures will naturally fall on the right side of the law. But much of fair housing law isn’t obvious, and so professionals who rely on good intentions put themselves at risk.
Myth #3: There’s not much to know.
Many apartment professionals are surprised to discover just how much there is to learn to stay on top of fair housing compliance, particularly in the areas of disability and familial status. If you’re new to fair housing training, you should expect to learn a range of useful, risk-reducing practices for complying with the law while gaining a clear understanding of what you can do to protect yourself against a potential lawsuit.
Myth #4: You can always take corrective action to make a fair housing problem go away.
More often than not, it’s impractical to undo violations, especially after they’ve caused harm. For this reason, it’s much more efficient to be proactive. Instead of just responding to problems as they arise, a proactive approach empowers you to prevent costly violations from occurring in the first place. Plus, property owners and managers who are confident in their fair housing knowledge are less anxious about violations and able to focus more of their energy on maintaining good tenant relations and growing their business.
Myth #5: Tenants aren’t sophisticated about fair housing laws, so they’re not likely to bring a complaint.
Many tenants and apartment hunters who believe they were treated unfairly choose to bring a complaint against their landlord or property manager, even if it turns out the law isn’t on their side. According to data compiled by the National Fair Housing Alliance, nearly 30,000 fair housing complaints were investigated in 2012. This number is likely to rise going forward, in part because of improving technology. For example, people who wish to file a fair housing complaint with HUD (at no cost and without the need to hire an attorney) may do so through HUD’s Web site or even using HUD’s new app.
Myth #6: I’m learning enough about fair housing through my affordable housing training.
If your building participates in an affordable housing program, chances are you’re attending training to learn the ins and outs of that program’s requirements. As part of that training, you might learn special fair housing requirements particular to the program. But it’s also essential to get familiar with the full set of responsibilities that housing professionals have under the Fair Housing Act, independent of any affordable housing program.
Ron Leshnower is an attorney and author, and the president of FairHousingHelper.com. You can follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/fairhousing.