Fair Housing—Done Right—Is a Complex, Nuanced Practice

March 14, 2018 | John Salustri

“We are a celebratory nation.” So says 2018/19 IREM President Donald B. Wilkerson, CPM, in his March column for National Real Estate Investor Complete Article. “We throw parties for everything from the major milestones in our lives--our weddings and births--to the Super Bowl game.

But, he points out, a more earth-shaking milestone occurs this year, one that “even overshadows (dare I say it?) the Super Bowl. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, which contained the Fair Housing Act, and was passed into law on April 11, 1968.”

This means a year of celebration of sorts for IREM, with, Wilkerson reports, special treatment of the Act coming up in the March/April edition of the Journal of Property Management. “Also on deck are a revamped, online fair housing educational course, premiering this month, and webinars throughout April on the topic.”

Everyone knows the basics of fair housing. But Wilkerson points out that CPMs know it in a much more detailed way: “The practice of fair housing is fully complex and highly nuanced, a sensitive reality that Certified Property Managers whose focus is apartments have to embrace on a daily basis. They stand on the front lines of the issue, ensuring that fair housing lives not only in concept, but in reality--with all of its nuances and complexities.

“As stated in, Principles of Real Estate Management originally published by IREM in 1947 and currently in its 17th edition,” he quotes: “‘Today, fair housing laws at all levels--federal, state and local--effectively prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, nationality, sex, religion, age, family status or mental or physical handicap. It is unlawful to refuse or to fail to show an apartment, to not supply rental information (e.g.: rates) or not rent an apartment because of an applicant’s protected status. It is also unlawful to impose different terms or conditions such as extending different privileges in regard to the rent of an apartment or in providing services based on a resident’s protected class.’”

This certainly covers a lot of ground. But here also is where the nuances of best practices come in, “and professional CPMs must proactively avoid the myriad sandtraps laid out by the subtleties of the legislation, the IREM president states. “Guidance here begins with a statement of ethics. The Institute’s list of best practices includes the need to ‘have and enforce a written company code of ethics that defines ethical relationships between the employees of the company and its clients, residents, tenants, vendors, the public and other employees.’ ”

The guiding principle implied therein protects us--which means it protects our residents--against such traps as unwitting breaches of the law. Wilkerson points to what Principles refers to as “steering”: wherein a manager, while not overtly saying, “No,” will dissuade “a prospect who inquires about available property from living at a particular site, encouraging them to look elsewhere, or hiding known vacant space from them.”

Wilkerson says that, while the legislation surrounding fair housing is well-intentioned, there are sticking points in how fairness is perceived. He quotes Doug Chasick, CPM, president of the Peachtree Corners, GA-based Fair Housing Institute Inc., who told JPM in the March/April issue: “There’s the knotty problem of disparate impact, which essentially is a theory used in fair housing and labor law that seeks to eliminate practices that adversely affect one group of people of a protected characteristic more than another, despite landlord rules that appear neutral.

“One of the biggest myths is that we have to treat everyone the same,” says Chasick. “It’s one of the easiest ways to get into trouble. You have to treat every circumstance the same. When you do try to treat everyone the same you can get into disparate impact.”

It’s a classic case of doing wrong while trying to do right, Wilkerson says. “Simply put, people are not the same. Rules may be applied that are formally neutral but end up in the realm of disparate impact by adversely affecting one group of people of a protected characteristic more than another.

“Guided by the law--as well as by the rules of ethics, the training that is part and parcel of a CPM’s capabilities and yes, even one’s own common sense,” Wilkerson concludes, “fair housing is indeed something to celebrate.”

About the Author

John Salustri is editor-in-chief of Salustri Content Solutions, Inc., a consultancy focused on enhancing the web and print content of clients around the nation. He is a regular contributor to JPM Magazine and a frequent blogger for IREM’s website. Prior to launching SCS, John was founding editor of GlobeSt.com, the industry’s premier real estate news website, where he managed the daily output of 25 international reporters, and prior to that, he was editor of Real Estate Forum Magazine. John is a four-time winner of the National Association of Real Estate Editors’ Award for Excellence in Journalism.

 

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