Grace Hill Training Tip of the Week
In January, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced it is awarding $37 million in assistance to more than 150 national and local organizations working to confront Fair Housing Act violations. Enforcement will come through testing, filing fair housing complaints, and investigations.
This seems like a good time to talk about documentation. Documentation is extremely important if you find yourself dealing with an accusation of discrimination. You must be able to defend your decisions, policies, and practices, as well as demonstrate that all persons were treated the same, regardless of membership in one of the protected classes. Accordingly, your documentation should offer a full accounting of facts. Describe all events and actions taken, all people involved, and provide specific dates and times.
Your documentation will not be effective if you do not keep the supporting paperwork: copies of service requests, guest cards, and availability reports. These records will be used to verify the dates and times of customer requests, availability changes, and rental rate changes.
Some additional tips for good record keeping strategies include:
- Use guest cards for consistent documentation on all prospective residents who call or visit.
- Document all follow-up activity on the guest card.
- Follow up both verbally and in writing with anyone whose rental application is declined.
- Keep an organized file of your apartment availability reports.
- Document the dates and times of any rental rate changes.
- Keep all service requests on file. Be sure the work done, time completed, and technician’s name are noted on the request.
- Keep important documentation, including guest cards, declined applications, availability reports, dates and times of rental rate changes, and all service requests on file for at least 3 years, though preferably for 5 years.
Why keep records for 3-5 years? It is becoming more common for unsuccessful HUD complaints to be filed as lawsuits. In this case, the complainant has two years from the time the discriminatory housing practice ended or occurred to file a lawsuit. However, the two years does not include any time in which administrative proceedings from the original HUD complaint were pending. Also, if a conciliation agreement was reached between the two parties in a HUD discrimination claim, and the accused party violates the agreement, the complainant has two years from the time the agreement is violated to file a lawsuit. So, long story short, proceedings related to a complaint could go on for a very long time!
HUD’s recent announcement reminds us that private organizations play a key role in enforcing fair housing laws, and that they are being provided with ammunition from the government to step up enforcement. Of course, it is best to do all you can to prevent claims in the first place. But if it happens, good documentation can help make the process go as smoothly as possible.