What You Need To Know About Fair Housing Laws And Social Media - Grace Hill
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What You Need To Know About Fair Housing Laws And Social Media

Posted on April 22, 2024 by Grace Hill

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Have you ever wondered whether Fair Housing laws apply to social media? Do you think the images you use on social media matter? Is it a good idea to look up prospective residents on social media? 

Knowing the answers to these questions and others related to social media is not just important — but critical — when it comes to mitigating risk.

For multifamily property teams, social media has become essential for engaging with residents and prospects. While it’s a fun way to showcase your community, celebrate successes, and tell a visual story, it’s an even more valuable gateway to being discovered by prospective renters searching for apartments in your area.  

A strong social media presence not only makes your community more discoverable online but also attracts quality leads, which is a significant driver of leasing conversions. With minimal upfront costs and a wide reach, social media is a powerful marketing tool that just makes financial sense. For properties looking to attract more renters, it’s a no-brainer.

But it’s not all fun and games! If you don’t understand what’s appropriate for posting and what’s not, you are putting your company at risk for costly lawsuits and reputational damage. In this age of social media, property management professionals must prioritize Fair Housing compliance and act non-discriminatorily, no matter what form of communication is used.

Fair Housing Laws + Social Media:

7 Tips for Protecting Your Property And People

  1. Abide By Fair Housing Regulations.
  2. Show Diversity.
  3. Use Welcoming Language.
  4. Put Equal Housing Opportunity on Display.
  5. Steer Clear of Social Media “Creeping”.
  6. Take Caution With Follower Requests.
  7. Remember That Intent is Irrelevant.

1. Abide By Fair Housing Regulations.

Above all, it’s important to be clear that social media communication is governed by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Why? Well, because social media communication — in all forms — is considered advertising, and the FHA prohibits discrimination in advertising.

This means it is illegal to create, publish or distribute housing ads that discriminate, limit, or deny equal access to housing because of membership in any federally protected class.

For that reason, any employee who can post on your community’s social media must also complete Fair Housing training. This applies to employees and any agency or service that has access to your social media.

2. Show Diversity.

It is crucial for property owners and managers to reflect a wide range of diversity in the images used across their social media channels. This includes individuals from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as all federal, state, and locally protected classes as defined by Fair Housing laws

Accurately depicting diversity should be done thoughtfully and authentically. It goes beyond your photos and extends to avatars, animations, and illustrations. Avoid using tokenism or stereotypes and ensure that diverse representation is integrated naturally into the content. 

Diversity isn’t just about demographics; it’s also about fostering a community where everyone feels valued. Even if a property’s resident population is not particularly diverse, it is still essential to show diversity in marketing materials and social media channels. By doing so, the property sends a message of inclusivity to potential residents — a key component of Fair Housing practices — and emphasizes that all individuals are welcome and respected.

3. Use Welcoming Language.

Social media is often a prospect’s first glimpse of your community, and we all know first impressions matter! Just like a welcoming smile in person, inclusive language on your social media channels has the power to shape perceptions and foster a sense of belonging. So property owners and managers must pay attention to the words team members use on social media to ensure residents and prospective residents feel welcome. 

A helpful guideline for using welcoming language is to focus on describing the community rather than individuals. By emphasizing the features, amenities, and benefits of the community, property managers can ensure their teams use inclusive language, avoiding any potential discrimination or bias.

    ✔ Highlight the welcoming environment, the sense of community, or the various services and amenities available. Here are some examples that demonstrate inclusion without singling out specific individuals or groups:

  • “Our community offers a welcoming atmosphere where residents can connect with neighbors.”
  • “We provide a range of amenities to enhance your living experience.”

    X Avoid using language that singles out or describes residents based on their characteristics. 

Also, keep in mind:

    ✔ Offer translations or provide materials in multiple languages.

    X Avoid using language that avoids assumptions or stereotypes.

    X Avoid phrases or words that could inadvertently exclude or offend certain groups.

By using welcoming language, property owners and managers demonstrate a commitment to Fair Housing practices while creating a positive impression that ensures residents and prospective residents feel valued and welcome.

4. Put Equal Housing Opportunity on Display.

Property owners and managers must prominently display the Equal Housing Opportunity (EHO) slogan, logo, or statement on their social media pages and website to further promote Fair Housing practices and mitigate the risk of potential discrimination.

Including the EHO slogan or logo serves as a visual reminder to everyone that the property is committed to providing equal housing opportunities to all individuals, regardless of their protected characteristics. This simple but powerful display reinforces the message that Fair Housing is not just a regulatory requirement but an intrinsic value of the community.

It is equally important to ensure the EHO placement is visible, easily readable, and prominently and strategically placed (i.e., in the header or footer of your website or social media profile).

It is also advisable to link the EHO logo or statement to a dedicated Fair Housing page, which provides comprehensive information about your property’s Fair Housing principles, policies, and procedures.

By displaying the EHO slogan, logo, or statement, property owners and managers showcase their dedication to Fair Housing practices, transparency, and inclusivity, creating a community where everyone feels protected and valued.

5. Steer Clear of Social Media “Creeping”.

Social media can be a tempting tool for learning more about residents and prospective residents. However, the information you find can leave you vulnerable to discrimination claims. 

Examples of information you might find on someone’s social media that could leave you vulnerable to claims include:

  • Learning that a prospective resident is a member of a protected class.
  • Discovering a prospect or resident’s religion.
  • Realizing that a prospective resident has children.
  • Noting a disability in something they have shared online.

If you think what you find on social media could influence, or even appear to influence, your decision about leasing to someone, then steer clear of investigating on social media. 

The best thing to do is consistently follow your standard application and qualification procedures for all prospects.

6. Take Caution With Follower Requests.

It’s tempting to connect with residents in your community. After all, you’ve known many of them for several years, perhaps developing friendships along the way. So, what’s the harm in connecting on social media? 

You and your teams must tread cautiously when blurring the lines between personal and professional social connections. If you connect with residents on social media, think carefully before acting on the information you find.

Consider This: What Should You Do?

Scenario 1: Image you have a couple living in a one-bedroom apartment. Your occupancy limits specify two people per bedroom. On social media, you learn that the couple is in the process of adopting twins.

Response: In this case, it’s best not to act.  Even making a note of this in the residents’ file could be problematic if you face a Fair Housing claim. It could appear as though you used the couple’s familial status in making decisions, which could violate Fair Housing laws.

Scenario 2: What if you come across something that is concerning about a resident on social media, such as an indication that they lied on their application or weren’t honest in an accommodation request?

Response: Consult with your supervisor and legal counsel before taking any action. If you act on information and are wrong about what you found, you may put yourself at risk for a Fair Housing complaint.

Download: Fair Housing Compliance Checklist

7. Remember That Intent is Irrelevant.

Discrimination doesn’t have to be intentional to be illegal. If the words or images you use on social media, regardless of intent, discourage people from living in your community, that may be enough to violate Fair Housing laws.  

Discrimination can take many forms, including both overt and subtle actions. Fair Housing laws protect individuals from being subjected to any form of discrimination, whether explicit or implicit. Therefore, you must be cautious about your social media content, considering its potential impact on different individuals or protected classes.

Check out our summary video highlighting the key tips on Fair Housing laws and social media discussed above! Who says this stuff can’t be fun?

How Grace Hill Can Help You Mitigate The Risks of Social Media

Let’s face it. Social media has become a vital part of doing business, particularly for multifamily managers, but it can be a minefield if you aren’t strategic in managing and promoting your messaging. Learn how you can mitigate the risks of social media using the solutions below:

  • Online Reputation Management (ORM): While a powerful tool, social media can also create dangerous blind spots in your online reputation. You could be blissfully unaware of a scathing review, or worse, “go viral” for all the wrong reasons. Grace Hill’s enhanced ORM solution gives you a consolidated view of your reviews, listings, and social media activity, helping you respond to negative sentiment and streamline your content publishing. 
  • Policies: Discrimination claims can derail your bottom line. Considering that the average discrimination claim is $37K1, a generic solution won’t cut it. Grace Hill gives you the necessary tools to protect your people and property. Our subject matter experts continuously monitor the industry’s legal landscape and proactively make necessary policy changes to help you maintain regulatory compliance.
  • Training: Not all training is created equal. Grace Hill goes beyond simply cramming facts into a course. Our experts create a comprehensive experience that includes interactive elements, real-world examples, and a variety of teaching methods to maximize learning potential. Our solution offers complete multifamily training content, helping to enhance your team’s performance.

According to NAA, 61% of operators say staying compliant amid constant new regulations is their biggest challenge And with social media, the landscape is constantly shifting!

So, while managing risk and staying compliant continue to be a significant challenge for the multifamily industry, the good news is that you don’t have to figure it out alone.

With a dedicated team of experts, let us help you mitigate your social media risk. Our ORM, Policy, and Training solutions provide robust, industry-specific solutions for the challenges you face. Contact us today!

1 CPR News, 2019
2 https://www.naahq.org/property-management-industry-pulse-2023

Grace Hill’s marketing content team aims to create informative resources that help multifamily and commercial industry professionals elevate their performance. From blog posts and ebooks to infographics, checklists and webinars, the Grace Hill team has a singular focus: creating meaningful and engaging content that resonates with real estate professionals across the industry.  However, what makes Grace Hill so unique is the range of collective experience and collaborative spirit of its marketing content team. A group of talented writers with expertise in the real estate industry, overall management effectiveness, marketing strategy, and operational efficiency, the team provides new ideas to take performance to the next level. As a thought leader, Grace Hill's content team constantly pushes the envelope, experimenting with new resources and tools to keep industry professionals ahead of the curve.  Whether you're a seasoned pro or just starting out in the real estate industry, the content team at Grace Hill is creating resources to help you succeed. Learn more about Grace Hill on LinkedIn.

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