How should we respond to questions about vacancies or rental policies to make sure we stay fair housing compliant?

Fair housing compliance requires accurate, timely information communicated in a non-discriminatory manner. Questions about vacancies, rental policies, property features, amenities, and services can come from various sources, such as walk-ins, telephone, text, email, social media, and advertising. Your best practice to avoid claims of fair housing violations is make sure all staff members  receive proper training on fair housing issues. An effective way to ensure your staff understands fair housing protections is to utilize role-play training exercises to practice compliant responses to inquiries.

As a rental housing provider you must develop your fair housing policy and procedures to comply with the current requirements applicable to federal, state, and local fair housing regulations to reduce your risks of fair housing violations. It is important to note that due diligence for understanding fair housing compliance requirements should also include due diligence for fair housing advertising requirements.

Rental properties, particularly multi-family properties, can receive numerous inquiries on a daily basis regarding the availability of units, rental qualifications, rents, pet policies, or other questions that must be answered in a fair housing compliant manner. When a rental staff member responds to an inquiry, the staff member does so as an agent of the rental housing owner/manager. How the inquiry is answered and the manner in which the response is given must be non-discriminatory, professional and in a manner that does not create a false impression or perception of the rental community and its policies. For example, if a caller inquires about the availability of a two-bedroom unit and is told there is unit availability and schedules a showing, the caller upon visiting the property would expect to be shown a two-bedroom unit. However, if the unit in question was rented immediately after the first inquiry regarding availability, the visitor may perceive he was given false information, perhaps as a pretext for not wanting to rent to him. Any time there is a contradiction in information given by a housing provider or rental staff about rental availability or policies by a housing provider or a staff member, the individual could perceive that there may be housing discrimination issues. A better response to manage this risk to further explain that the information given is accurate only for that specific time. This can be accomplished by using a scripted response such as “a two-bedroom unit is available for showing today but we do not know how long that availability will continue. Someone could view the unit and put down a deposit later today.”

A written prepared script that provides property information such as features, and amenities, updated to current availability of units and fair housing compliant response to commonly asked rental policies can help the staff member respond to questions accurately and consistently in a manner that avoids inadvertent discrimination. Any inquiry from any source must receive the same consistent, accurate, timely response from any staff member who handles the inquiry.

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