Disparate Impact – Stop with the Panic Bells, Already!

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united-states-of-america-signAs you likely are aware, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) handed down its ruling this week, affirming the validity of Disparate Impact Theory in Fair Housing cases. Immediately, some of my colleagues in the property management industry began ringing the panic bells. “This will change everything!” No, it won’t.

This is Nothing New!

HUD and DOJ have been using Disparate Impact Theory to prove fair housing cases for 40 years! All this SCOTUS decision did, was to uphold policies, rules, and practices that were already in place. This changes nothing. It simply affirms what has been the case for decades.

 

Let’s not panic, here. As housing providers, we should be leading the way as advocates for equal opportunity in housing, not ringing alarm bells over something we know little about (most of us), just because some of our colleagues are in panic mode.

 

For as long as I’ve been in this business, disparate impact has been a ‘thing.’ There are two ways to prove a fair housing case. You can either prove intention (very difficult!), or you can prove disparate impact.  It’s quite rare, these days, when you will hear a housing provider say something like, “We don’t rent to your kind!”  A statement like that would be intentional discrimination, and easily proven as such. In today’s climate, you’re much more likely to see discrimination delivered with a smile, a handshake, and a pat on the back… “We just rented that unit, but I think you’d like the place down the street…”

 

Before you panic over this SCOTUS decision, please take a few moments to study the Mount Holly case (never decided by SCOTUS – it settled), and the Texas case on which SCOTUS based its decision.  Then, read this memo by HUD and DOJ, so that you have a better understanding of how Disparate Impact theory actually works.

 

And, remember…this is not new.

 

As always, your feedback and comments are welcome. Thanks for reading!

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Service Animals, Companion Animals, Assistance Animals…Oh My!

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Service_AnimalsAn open letter to the Property Management community…

As a property manager myself, I certainly understand and sympathize with your concerns around the topic of service animals. There still seems to be a great deal of confusion in the industry over which laws apply, in this area. In a blog post a few years back, I discussed the difference between the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA). It’s important to remember that these are two different laws, with entirely different applications. ADA applies to public accommodations only – not housing. The FFHA, however, applies to housing. If you’re not clear on the differences, please take a few moments to read that blog post. It contains links to important HUD documents that explain the differences between the two laws, particularly in the area of service/assistance animals.

 

In very brief summary, ADA holds quite a narrow definition of “Service Animal.” For purposes of ADA, a Service Animal is a trained dog (and, in some cases, a miniature horse) – one that is specifically trained to perform a task to aid a person with a disability. The FFHA, on the other hand, takes a much broader view. The terms “service animal,” “therapy animal,” “comfort animal,” “companion animal,” “assistance animal…” all mean the same thing, under fair housing law. (For purposes of simplicity from this point forward, I’ll collectively refer to these animals as “Service Animals.”) Essentially ANY animal (or animals) who aids a person with a disability, in some way, to cope with the outcomes of that disability is considered a Service Animal under the FFHA. Furthermore, those animals do not have to be trained to perform a specific task. Sometimes, their ‘job’ is simply to exist! There is a great deal of scientific evidence out there to support the fact that animals are beneficial to our health. This concept is embraced by the FFHA.   Continue reading

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Converting Rentals to 55+ Status (HOPA)

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seniorsThe Reader’s Digest version of this post, for those who prefer that kind of thing, is “No.” Just no. Only in very rare cases, can you convert an existing rental property from a traditional residential rental (welcoming families with children), to a 55+ property, under the exemptions contained in the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA).

A property manager recently asked me whether her client could declare the client’s duplex a “55+ Community,” ‘since it’s a multifamily property.’

First, I suggested he talk to his lawyer, or Silver State Fair Housing Council. Then, “A duplex isn’t a ‘multifamily’ property. That term generally applies to 4+ units. Since this property is not part of a larger ‘association’ of similar properties who’ve formed an association… and, since there are no governing documents for your client’s property that address any kind of HOPA exemption, no. No, your client can’t do that.”  Continue reading

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When Saving Time Can Cost You Time (and Money!)

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As successful property managers, we quickly learn the importance of streamlining our policies and procedures, by establishing methods to save both time and effort. The profit margin in this business is tight, and if we fail to employ standardization and time-saving strategies, we’ll never succeed. I’ve noticed the average burnout time for most new property managers seems to be about 2 years. That’s how long it takes to realize it’s not a money-making business, unless we have policies and procedures in place that make the job doable.

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New Fair Housing Class – Available Nationally

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justiceThe finishing touches have been applied, and it’s ready to go! A brand new class entitled “What’s New in Fair Housing: Cases, Settlements & Trends for Property Managers” is the result of many months of research, analysis, and compilation of information about the steadily-evolving trends and cases around the Federal Fair Housing Act, today. As a property manager, you’re undoubtedly aware of the huge impact this body of law has on our industry. Still, you may find yourself confused about such things as

  • The differences between a “service animal,” “therapy animal,” “companion animal,” and “assistance animal.”
  • What you can and cannot ask a prospective resident about his or her disability.
  • Whether you could be held liable for a discriminatory statement made by someone else.
  • Whether you can continue to use the same tenant qualification criteria you’ve always used, without risking a fair housing claim.

This course was designed as a 3-hour program, but can be extended to as many as 6 hours, depending on the needs of your organization. Believe me, there’s plenty of information to fill the time!

Not only will this class be an eye-opener for all who attend, you’ll actually take away some very practical tools for use in your day-to-day business – stuff you can put to work for your company right away!

Want more information? Ask away, by leaving a comment below!

 

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Assistance Animal Fair Housing Case in Reno Nevada

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BassetHot off the presses! The U.S. Department of Justice just announced a settlement with a Reno, NV apartment complex regarding the management’s treatment of residents with assistance animals. From the DOJ’s press release:

“The department’s complaint had alleged that the owners, employees and management company of Rosewood Park Apartments violated the Fair Housing Act by limiting individuals with certain assistance animals to a particular section of Rosewood Park Apartments; subjecting such individuals to pet fees; requiring assistance animals to be licensed or certified; and barring companion or uncertified service dogs altogether.”

The settlement in this case was $127,500, payable to a family who was denied housing (because of their assistance animal), Continue reading

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Disparate Impact: You don’t have to intend to discriminate to violate fair housing law!

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JuEqual_Housing_Logo_GIFst today, The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued its “final rule”   on disparate impact under the federal Fair Housing Act.

This final rule responds to a heated battle between housing providers (broadly defined to include all parties involved in selling, renting, insuring, lending, and zoning of residential property in the U.S.) and fair housing advocates that ended up in front of the Supreme Court last year. (Just this month, the case was withdrawn, presumably in response to HUD’s published position on the issue.)

 What is “Disparate Impact?”

Section 100.500(a) provides that a “discriminatory effect” occurs where a facially neutral practice actually or predictably results in a discriminatory effect on a group of persons protected by the Act (that is, has a disparate impact), or on the community as a whole on the basis of a protected characteristic (perpetuation of segregation). Any facially neutral action, e.g., laws, rules, decisions, standards, policies, practices, or procedures, including those that allow for discretion or the use of subjective criteria, may result in a discriminatory effect actionable under the Fair Housing Act and this rule. For examples of court decisions regarding policies or practices that may have a discriminatory effect, please see the preamble to the proposed rule at 76 FR 70924-25.

Simply stated, disparate impact occurs when a housing provider’s policies or actions, although neutral and non-discriminatory on their face, serve to disproportionately negatively impact a protected class of individuals, as defined under the Fair Housing Act.   Continue reading

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Violent Residents – Guilty by Association?

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Many of our tenants (and owners, too!) have been going through some tough economic conditions in the last few years. It’s no surprise that incidences of domestic violence tend to increase when a family is suffering economic hardship. Studies show that domestic violence is three times more likely to occur when couples are experiencing high levels of economic strain.   Continue reading

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Rottweilers, Shepherds, and Pitbulls, Oh My!

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Rottweilers, Shepherds, and Pitbulls, Oh My!

The subject of today’s post was inspired by a recent class on accommodating the needs of residents with disabilities. As professional property managers, we know the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) requires us to make reasonable accommodations for renters with physical or mental disabilities. Often times, these requests revolve around assistance animals (note: the term “assistance animal” is synonymous with “companion animal,” “service animal,” “therapy animal,” etc.)  It is widely known within the property management industry that accommodating such requests is generally considered “reasonable,” under FFHA.

 

 

What happens when the animal is a “dangerous breed” of dog?

 

Stories relating to incidents of deadly animal attacks on humans make national news on a fairly regular basis. As many of us know, some insurance companies keep lists of dog breeds they consider “dangerous,” Continue reading

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Stop me if you’ve heard this one…

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In the area of screening tenants for residential rental properties, property managers often like to think of themselves as great judges of character. After all, as a property manager, you deal with prospective tenants from all walks of life, don’t you? A few years in the business is likely to give us the feeling that we instinctively know who’s going to be a good tenant, and who isn’t.

 

Once upon a time…

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