7 Important Things to Keep in Mind When it Comes to Fair Housing Compliance

Real estate

Everyone in the multifamily industry should be familiar with the Fair Housing laws, but there is a lot to remember. Here’s a scary thought – you are held accountable and subject to consequences for violating Fair Housing laws, even if you are not aware you’re doing it! With this in mind, it’s important to carefully and thoughtfully consider policies and procedures to ensure you and your team are in compliance with the Fair Housing Act. This is especially true as you work to navigate the unfamiliar and rapidly evolving state of business during the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll discuss some tips and ideas you can use as a sort of preventative maintenance for Fair Housing compliance. As you work through the decision-making process around your policies and procedures, remember to think beyond today. Consider the impact your decisions will have both today and further down the road.

  • COVID-19 related information needs to be accurately communicated and updated when the information changes.
  • Clearly outline the COVID-19 related reasoning for exceptions to existing policies and procedures so that won’t be perceived as preferential treatment when those exceptions no longer apply in the future.
  • Never disclose personal information about a known infection.
  • If asking questions related to safety precautions, always respond consistently.
  • Take note of HUD’s new ruling revising Disparate Impact Standards effective 10/26/20. This new ruling:
    • Provides greater defenses for housing providers,
    • Requires the plaintiff to provide more proof of the adverse effect,
    • Adds affirmative defenses to disparate impact claims.

Another area to examine and clarify is accommodations and modifications. First, make sure you are clear on the definitions of the terms used:

Reasonable Accommodations: A change, exception or adjustment to a rule, policy, practice or service that may be necessary for a person with a disability to have equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling, including public and common use spaces. What constitutes an unreasonable accommodation? A request would be deemed unreasonable if it were to impose an undue financial burden or administrative burden on the housing provider or if it would fundamentally alter the nature of the business operation. Whether or not a request imposes an undue financial burden is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Reasonable Modifications: Structural change made to existing premises, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability, in order to afford such person full enjoyment of the premises. When a modification is needed, who pays? In most jurisdictions, the disabled resident is responsible for the cost of the modification. However, guidance for any community that falls under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is different. In addition, the disabled resident is responsible for making reasonable restoration to the interior of the apartment to return it to its original condition before termination of occupancy if the modifications will interfere with the next resident’s use. Take note, the disabled resident cannot be charged a higher deposit because of the modification, but you CAN require the establishment of an escrow account to fund the removal of the modifications. When it comes to the installation or removal of the modifications, your rules should be clearly stated regarding who is deemed a qualified installer.

Refusing Requests: When you determine that a request should be refused, tread lightly. Before delivering the information to the resident, speak to your legal team so you can be sure your language is within compliance and that you should definitely refuse the request.

Service Animals: Under the ADA, a service animal is defined as a dog that has been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for an individual with a disability. The task(s) performed by the dog must be directly related to the person’s disability. However, HUD has a much broader application for the definition of a service animal and does not limit to dogs only, so be sure to stay up to date on what constitutes a service animal under Fair Housing guidelines.

Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment falls under two main types – hostile environment and quid pro quo. Sexual harassment is actually a topic covered under Fair Housing and can be applied as follows:

  • Vendors: In cases where a vendor is guilty of sexual harassment of a resident, both the vendor and the community can be held liable for violations.
  • Responding to Allegations: Take all allegations seriously and address the concern promptly.
  • Being Victimized: Speak to a supervisor immediately if you feel you are being victimized. If the harassment is coming from a supervisor, go over their head to report.
  • Domestic Violence: In 2016, a HUD ruling called to protect victims of domestic violence who avoided calling the police for fear of a lease violation. Be sure to check with your legal team to ensure any policies you have around police calls and lease violations are in compliance with this ruling.

Marketing and Discrimination: Discrimination in marketing can come not only from excluding particular protected classes, but also from showing a clear preference for one protected class over another! Instead of focusing on any classes, focus your marketing on the community itself. When choosing stock photography, be sure to represent all different types of people and take care not to consistently represent any particular class in an undesirable manner. Another idea – instead of using stock images, use pictures of you and your team! This allows people to see a familiar face.

Social Media: Keep your work presence and personal presence on social media separate! Avoid allowing those to overlap to limit possible perceptions of preference.

Presented by:


Wes Aleshire

Director of Learning and Development
Pegasus Residential

About Ellis

Since 1984, Ellis Partners in Management Solutions has specialized exclusively in helping our multifamily clients measure and improve the customer experience by teaming with customers to develop professional skills and behaviors in each team member. We evaluate customer service and performance of onsite leasing professionals through comprehensive mystery shopping reports, our multiple touchpoint resident survey program, and training. Our turn-key integrated customer experience program, backed by outstanding customer service, sophisticated technology, and ethical business practices, has made Ellis one of the multifamily industry’s most respected and sought-after providers of training and consulting services.