Grace Hill Training Tip of the Week
Can you Discriminate Against Someone You’ve Never Talked to?
When you think about upholding fair housing laws, you probably think about treating people fairly and equally when they come in for a tour or as you interact with them as residents of your community. But could you end up on the wrong side of a fair housing claim without ever interacting with a person? That may seem unlikely, but let’s explore!
Consider these examples:
- A maintenance technician skips over a service ticket for a devout Christian family with a reputation for talking openly about their religion because he anticipates feeling uncomfortable. The maintenance technician’s behavior could be considered discrimination based on religion, even though the maintenance technician never directly interacted with the resident.
- A leasing agent gets an email from a prospective resident with a name that she assumes is Asian. The agent does not respond to the email because the community’s residents are mostly African American and she feels the prospective resident probably wouldn’t fit in. This behavior could be considered discrimination based on race, even though the leasing agent never directly interacted with the prospective resident.
Fair housing laws protect people from discrimination throughout all stages of your interactions, not just after they become residents of your community. From the first contact, whether by phone call, email, text, or in-person, you are responsible for upholding fair housing laws and treating all people in a non-discriminatory manner. In fact, it is possible for you to discriminate against someone without ever having direct contact with that person.
How can you guard against this happening in your community? Consistency and training are good places to start.
Consistency is key in dealing with fair housing issues. It is best to behave consistently with everyone you assist, and everyone who is seeking assistance from you even if you haven’t interacted with them yet – phone messages, emails, web inquiries, and service requests. If you make an exception to any policy or procedure, make sure you provide the same information and options to all prospects and residents who are in the same situation.
All staff members who interact with residents and prospective residents, or who handle requests or inquiries of any kind, should be trained on fair housing laws. It is recommended that newly hired staff receive fair housing training before they work with customers. Vendors and contractors who could possibly interact with your residents should be informed of your company’s fair housing policy and asked to abide by fair housing laws. All personnel should refresh their fair housing knowledge at least annually.
It never hurts to run through scenarios with your employees, including those like the ones above, to ensure that they understand that it is important to think about upholding fair housing laws at all times, not just when they are face-to-face or otherwise directly interacting with prospective or current residents.