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Disability Law Center Receives $282,830 for Fair Housing Testing

Posted by paul on October 3rd, 2016
Disability Law Center Receives $282,830 for Fair Housing Testing

The Disability Law center, in Salt Lake City, Utah, will receive a $282,830 grant to perform fair housing testing in Utah through the coming year.

HUD announced a total of $38 million in Fair Housing Initiatives (FHIP) grants to confront discriminatory housing. In their press release, they say “HUD's grants will support some 155 national and local fair housing organizations working to confront violations of the nation's landmark Fair Housing Act”. According to HUD, FHIP grants fund organizations to support a wide range of fair housing enforcement, education and outreach activities. The grants allow the groups to provide fair housing enforcement through testing in the rental and sales markets, to file fair housing complaints to HUD, and to conduct investigations. Finally, the education and outreach activities these organizations conduct also help to educate the public, housing providers and local governments about their rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing Act.

"Every person should have a fair chance to live in a community of opportunity, free from discrimination," said HUD Secretary Julián Castro. "HUD remains deeply committed to fighting housing discrimination so folks have an equal shot at achieving the American Dream. Working closely with our fair housing partners on the ground, the investments we make today are a strong step forward to put an end to housing discrimination." 

Passing Fair Housing Testing
By L. Paul Smith

Let’s be honest, no one likes tests! But when failing a certain test can lead to fines or law suits, it is especially important to be prepared. In Utah the Disability Law Center conducts testing to verify landlords are complying with Fair Housing law. While most will be on disability issues, tests can be for any of the protected classes: race, color, sex, religion, country of origin, disability, familial status, source of income, sexual orientation and gender identity.

Paired Testing

When the DLC tests, they generally use paired testers. This means they send (or have call on the phone) two applicants. They measure if the two prospective applicants are treated the same. One tester is not in a protected class (the “control” tester). The other is (the “protected class” tester). The tests are normally done on the same day, to the same leasing person or landlord. If any red flags are discovered, the DLC orders a second test.  If both tests suggest the landlord uses discriminatory practices, a complaint is filed with the state or Housing and Urban Development (the Federal Agency in charge of Fair Housing). Findings of discrimination by the state can result in fines of $10,000 for first time offenders. The most effective way to avoid red flags from paired testing is to be sure and treat EVERY PROSPECT the same.

What are red flags?

A landlord recently called the UAA after receiving a letter from the state notifying her it was beginning an investigation based on testing from the DLC. In her case, she had twice been asked (a few weeks apart) if she allowed service animals. Both times she said yes, BUT, both times she told them she charged an extra $500 deposit to have a service animal. That is an illegal practice. The first offense was the “red flag”. The second led to a formal complaint.

According to the DLC, a significant number of initial tests find "red flags" suggesting discrimination or discriminatory practice, leading to follow-up. Some of the red flags included:

  • Apartment manager asked about the nature of a person’s disability (a clear no-no)
  • Tester was told there would be $50 additional rent added each month for a service animal.
  • A protected class tester was told no unit was available while a control tester was told there was one ready now.
  • A protected class tester was referred to another complex while a control tester was shown a unit at that complex
  • The control tester was offered a move-in special while protected class tester was not

Using Rental Criteria and Equal Treatment

The best way to help you treat everyone equally is to use the same process, procedure and criteria for everyone. Having a firm list of rental criteria can help make sure applicants are only judged on those items (income, credit, rental history, etc.) and not on some prohibited criteria like having a service animal or children in the home.

In addition to rental criteria, have, in writing if possible, a “script” you use with everyone. For instance, write down in advance how you will answer every question you might receive. When you do a tour, make it the same for everyone. When getting an application and doing screening, follow the same procedures and require same information from all.

What to Avoid when Renting a Vacancy

Answering questions differently can get you in trouble. For instance, if you ask one applicant how many people will live there, but ask another how many kids they have, it might look  like you are discriminating against children.

Doing a tour of the grounds, pool and neighborhood for one person, but not doing it for the next could look like you prefer the one over the other. Treat everyone the same.

When you get an application, run it immediately. Don’t wait for “a few to choose between”. This could look like you are waiting for someone who “is not in that protected class” to rent to. That would be discriminatory

Deny people only for failing one of your rental criteria, like insufficient income, poor rental or credit history, previous criminal history, etc. Never use your “gut” instinct. Denials must be based on qualifications, not feelings.

Housing Isn’t a Right – but all Should Have Equal Opportunity

  • You don’t have to rent to someone in a wheelchair, who is also an axe murderer and has been evicted five times. But you should give everyone opportunity by letting them view the housing and apply if they think they can qualify.
  • While you can set reasonable occupancy standards (like two people per bedroom), you cannot deny families with children the opportunity to rent your place, if they qualify, simply because they have children.
  • You don’t have to rent to people who are loud and disturb others. But verifying families with kids were not too noisy at their last place and having them agree to abide by your noise standards rather than assuming they are too loud to live there gives them opportunity.
  • To provide opportunity, your rental criteria shouldn’t be so high as only to describe the top 1% of renters. It should be set only to screen out high risk individuals, not setting the bar so high that good tenants can’t qualify.
  • The best indicator of future performance is past performance. Give everyone an opportunity to show you how well they performed in their last rental, and base qualifications on that not how well they speak English.
  • You don’t have to rent to pets or allow people who are high risk. But if someone with an emotional support animal applies, give them an opportunity to verify they qualify for that “accommodation” for an assistance animal (and the commensurate waiving of all pet fees, pet rent, etc.). If you need help with that process please contact us.

Many landlords find people they were initially uncomfortable about but couldn’t exactly say why, turn out to be great tenants when given the opportunity.

Whether it is a tester or an actual applicant, the best way to run your business and comply with the law is to provide opportunity for all, treat people equally and qualify tenants on risk based (not opinion or emotion based) criteria. If you do that, you will be successful in business and in passing Fair Housing testing. 

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