10 Things to do to Avoid Fair Housing Noncompliance

(1) Training

Take advantage of any and all company-provided and outside training, including from local fair housing enforcement agencies and the NAA Education Institute.

(2) Document!

The adage is old but so true: If you do not write it down, it did not happen. Remember, your lawyer is not a magician and needs detailed and written documentation, pictures and videos as soon as possible after a violation or another event takes place.

(3) Avoid “Editorial Comments”

Leave personal feelings out of your documentation and do not use written communications to make inappropriate judgments (e.g., lack of belief the resident’s animal is assistive). Make your observations a factual and neutral business record you would want an investigator or jury to read.

(4) Stay Ahead of the Present

Know how to handle emerging issues like medical marijuana as reasonable accommodations, bariatric accessibility, “nontraditional” assistive animals, domestic violence protections, electronic cigarettes and same-sex couples in senior housing.

(5) Simple Stuff

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that get you in trouble. Examples: Asking for training records for assistive animals, restricting children’s activities or occupancy limits without a rational basis, etc.

(6) Remember Four Words

Unwanted, unwelcome, hostile and offensive are four words that an owner cannot ignore when they define a housing or working environment. Even if someone in a protected class is not targeted, the best practice is to investigate and take appropriate action promptly.

(7) Accessibility Compliance

Whether dealing with Section 504, other federal accessibility requirements or state or local codes, have a team of accessibility consultants and outside counsel specializing in accessibility compliance that you can assemble well before you need them. Waiting to do so until after you are charged or sued can be disastrous.

(8) Establish a System

The right steps are needed when processing reasonable accommodation and modification requests. Use HUD-compliant documents that residents may fill out for convenience and a flow chart of the steps in processing. Have specialized procedures for assistive animals, accessible parking and more.

(9) Every Employee’s Job

Make sure everyone on your team receives fair housing training right after hiring, as well as follow-up education. Positively reinforce employees when they “get it right.” Maintain a culture that empowers employees to seek legal advice before they act and react.

(10) Be a Lamp, Lifeboat or Ladder

If we all would focus on service to others, as the poet Rumi urged, our communities and fellow employees would be transformed. Use your “lamp” to spotlight compliance, use your “lifeboat” to help others and use your “ladder” to bring up your direct reports and other staff.

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