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Weekly Training Tip: Fair Housing and Limited English Proficiency

Posted on December 14, 2018 by Grace Hill

limited English proficiency

Grace Hill Training Tip of the Week

Fair Housing and Limited English Proficiency

limited English proficiency
Don’t provide poor translations as they can be confusing and misleading.

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 LEP 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

limited English proficiency


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


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.


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