A Practical Guide to Avoiding Fair Housing Litigation Let’s Avoid a Lawsuit, Shall We? Heidi Olguin & Mona Hathout, Progressive Management Resources, Inc. A Compliance Consulting Firm
PMR - Who We Are Compliance Consulting Firm Monitor National & Local Fair Housing & Employment Consent Decrees Litigation stems from DOJ, CA Dept. of Corp., CA Atty. General’s, EEOC & private cases Policies, Training, Testing and Investigations Learn from our Clients’ Missteps
TOP 5 WAYS TO END UP IN A FAIR HOUSING LAWSUIT 5. Upper MGT Unfamiliar w/ Fair Housing law 4. No Fair Housing Policies in Place 3. No Staff Training 2. Not Managing Employee Behavior 1. Not Properly Responding to Complaints
Outline Overview of Fair Housing Law Current Litigation Fair Housing Policies Handling Complaints & Managing Employee Behavior
Federal Fair Housing Laws Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (Fair Housing Act) Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 Section 109 of Title I of the Housing and Community Development Act of 1974 Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 Architectural Barriers Act of 1968 Age Discrimination Act of 1975 Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972
The Fair Housing Act Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 What’s covered? Housing Transactions: sale, rental, financing, insurance, appraisals The Fair Housing Act (FHA) covers MOST housing! FHA does not cover: –owner-occupied buildings with 4 or less units, –single-family housing sold or rented w/o a broker, –housing operated by organizations/private clubs that limit occupancy to members Note: Advertising Guidelines apply to all properties
The Fair Housing Act What’s Prohibited DISCRIMINATORY ACTIONS based on PROTECTED CLASSES Race Color Religion National Origin Disability Sex Familial Status Refusing to rent or sell Refusing to negotiate Making housing unavailable Setting different terms/conditions/ privileges Providing different services or facilities Falsely denying housing is available Blockbusting Denying access to or membership in a facility or service Threatening, coercing, intimidating or interfering with FH rights Advertising preferences
State Fair Housing Laws Many states have their own fair housing laws. For example, California’s “Fair Employment and Housing Act” (FEHA) includes these protected classes: Race Color Religion National Origin Ancestry Sex Disability (including HIV/AIDS) Gender Identity and Gender Expression Sexual Orientation Marital Status Familial Status Source of Income Medical Condition Genetic Information Any arbitrary & intentional discrimination on basis of personal characteristics similar to those listed above
Special Fair Housing Topics Persons with Disabilities Familial Status Sexual Harassment
Fair Housing & Individuals with Disabilities FHA provides additional protections to people with disabilities to ensure opportunity to fully enjoy their dwelling & common spaces: Reasonable Accommodations & Reasonable Modifications. How is disability defined? –Physical or mental impairment that substantially limits 1 or more major life activities –Having a record of such a disability or –Being regarded as having such a disability
Fair Housing & Individuals with Disabilities (cont’d) What is a Reasonable Modification? Physical changes to premises (apartment unit, common spaces, or parking areas) Tenant generally responsible for paying for the modification Can require that work be done in compliance with necessary building codes/workmanlike manner. Limited circumstances: landlord may require the tenant to restore the unit to its original state when the tenant leaves What is a Reasonable Accommodation? Reasonable accommodations are changes to rules and policies.
Handling Requests for Reasonable Accommodations & Modifications IMPORTANT CONCEPTS: Case by case – each one unique Verifying Disability and Need Determine Reasonableness Communicating with the Requester Interactive Process Documentation
Allowing assist animals Reading notices to the tenant Assisting with application Allowing for reserved parking Allowing caregiver Adjusting rent due dates Allowing unit transfers Providing rent reminders Explaining lease/property rules Showing resident how to use appliances in the apartment and common use areas Moving monthly resident meetings to an accessible location Allowing extensions of time (for correcting problems or move- outs) Examples of Reasonable Accommodations
Widening doorways Allowing grab bars in the bathroom Allowing a ramp to be built Removing protruding objects from outside pathways Wrapping the underneath sides of pipes in the kitchen and bathroom with insulation Extra lighting outside next to the front door Visual alarm system on smoke detectors Making outside door lock or security locks simpler Providing non-slip, color contrasting strip to outside stairs A door bell flasher Examples of Reasonable Modifications
Denying a RA/RM Request Basis for Denial –No Disability –Undue financial or administrative burden –Alters the nature of your business –Direct Threat How should you deny? – Carefully!! Interactive Process
Fair Housing & Accessibility Standards FHA: Properties built after March 1991 –7 Accessibility Standards Title III of ADA -- Places of public accommodations (front office, public parking) must be built in compliance with “ADAAG” (Accessibility Guidelines) –Properties built before January 1993 - removal/minimization of barriers (technically feasible and readily achievable)
Fair Housing & Familial Status Having in the household anyone that is: –Under 18 living with a parent or legal custodian –Pregnant –Securing legal custody of someone under 18
Fair Housing & Familial Status Common Problems/Mistakes ‘No Children’ Policy (formal or informal) Segregating families (buildings, sections, floors) Demanding children of opposite sex have separate bedrooms Refusing to rent based on risks/dangers (lead paint, steep steps, located near train tracks) Inquiring about pregnancy, childcare arrangements, or # of children Charging extra for children (per person charges)
Fair Housing & Sexual Harassment Sexual Harassment is PROHIBITED –Unwelcome sexual advances or targeting a group/individuals based on gender Two forms of Sexual Harassment: –“quid pro quo” and –“hostile environment” Duty to Act
Current FH Litigation at DOJ – Cases based on Race 2/4/14:US v. Wallschlaeger (S.D. Ill.), Race & Familial Status 1/8/14: US v. Stonebridge (N.D. Tex), Race & National Origin 1/12/13: US v. 61 Main Street Corp. (S.D.N.Y), Race & Color 9/30/13:US v. Housing Authority of the City of Ruston (W.D. La), Racial Discrimination in placement of new residents 9/30/13: US v. S-2 Properties, Inc.(W D. Pa.), Race 9/30/13: US v. Wilson (W.D. Ky.), Race and Familial Status 8/15/13: US v. Highland Management Group, Inc. (D. Minn.), Race and National Origin 8/1/13: US v. Hylton (D. Conn), Race
Current FH Litigation at DOJ – Familial Status 1/30/13:US v. Edwards (D. N.H.), Familial Status (prohibited kids) 11/25/13: US v. Greenbrier Village HOA (D. Minn.), Familial Status (rules) 11/4/13: US v. Bachmaga (E.D. Wis), Race and Familial Status 10/25/13: US v. Woodland Garden Apts, Familial Status (engaged in pattern or practice of discrimination against families w/ children 9/30/13: US v. Zaremba Mgt Co. (N.D. Ohio), Familial Status 8/15/13: US v. Townhomes of Kings Lake HOA, Inc. (M.D. Fla.), Familial Status (Occupancy Limits) 5/10/13: US v. Clarendon Hill Somerville (D. Mass.), Familial Status (Denial) 4/17/13: US v. Magee (S.D. Miss.), Familial Status (Occupancy Limits)
Current FH Litigation at DOJ - Disability 1/8/14:US v. Allegro Apts. (E.D. Wis.) (Refusal due to Assistance dog) 1/13/14: US v. East River Housing Corp. (S.D.N.Y.) 12/12/13: DeFiore v. City Rescue Mission (W.D. Pa) (Refusal in shelter due to Assistance Dog) 11/12/13: US v. LCW Family Ltd. Partnership (D. Neb.) (Refusal of an Assistance animal) 11/18/13: US v. Trinity Villas, Inc. (M.D. Fla.) Disability (Refusal of Reasonable Accommodation transfer) 11/18/13: US v. Wren (N.D. Ill.) Disability and Familial Status
Disability Cases at DOJ - cont’d 11/15/13: US v. Schimnich (D. Minn.) (Denial/Assist animal) 11/14/13: US v. The Whitacres (N.D. W.Va.) (Eviction based on Assistance Animal) 10/30/14: US v. Gulf Shores Apts (S.D. Ala.) Disability and Gender 10/28/13: US v. Rosewood Park Apartments (D. Nev.) (Denial based on Assistance Animal) 7/ 1/13: US v. Barber (W.D. Wash.) (Not waiving "pet deposit" for assistance animal) 4/19/14: US v. Univ. of Nebraska (D. Neb.) (Denying Assistance Animal in Student Housing) 3/27/13: US v. Croom (D. N.M.) – RA refusal $200,000
Current FH Litigation at DOJ – Gender / Sexual Harassment 10/3/13: US v. Toone (E.D. Tex.) –Gender Discrimination 9/30/13: US v. VanderVennen (W.D. Mich.) –Sexual Harassment 4/19/13: US v. Ferrante (D. Me.) –Sexual Harassment 9/13/12: Hawecker and US v. Sorensen (E.D. Cal.) –Sexual Harassment
FH Issue that ALMOST went the Supreme Court: DISPARATE TREATMENT Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Garden Citizens in Action, Inc. Issue: Can disparate impact claims be brought under the Fair Housing Act? Facts: Township wanted to demolish a housing community primarily comprised of mainly African-American and Latino low income residents and rebuild more expensive housing. 11 of 12 Federal Circuit Appeal Courts have held that the FHA allows Disparate Impact suits, but Supreme Court has never issued a finding on disparate impact in FH.
Landmark Disability Case June 25, 2012 -- Justice Department Obtains Landmark $10.5 Million Settlement to Resolve Disability-Based Housing Discrimination Lawsuit Allegations: JPI Construction discriminated on the basis of disability in the design and construction of multifamily housing complexes throughout U.S. DOJ investigated and found accessibility barriers at various JPI properties. Since 1991, JPI and its affiliates built 210 multifamily properties in 26 states and the District of Columbia; trial involving 32 of JPI’s properties was scheduled to begin July 9, 2012.
Largest Individual FH Disability Settlement by DOJ 12/27/10 – DOJ obtained $1.25 million settlement with Warren Properties Inc., to settle allegations that defendants violated Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant a tenant’s requests for a reasonable accommodation. Allegation: failing to permit a tenant with mobility impairment to move to a ground-floor apartment in a 196-unit apartment complex; resident subsequently fell down the stairs and sustained further injury.
Occupancy Policies Lead to Discrimination Charges 4/24/13: United States v. Magee (S.D. Miss.) –Allegations of discrimination against families with children by refusing to rent a 3-bdrm home to woman w/ 4 four children -- “too many children” under community’s occupancy policy (set lower maximum number of children than adults who could reside in each home). 8/15/13: United States v. Townhomes of Kings Lake HOA, Inc. (M.D. Fla.) –Allegations of discrimination against families with children by maintaining and enforcing an unlawful occupancy limit policy by threatening to evict a family w/ 6 kids from a 4-bdrm apt.
Other Fair Housing Cases of Note 9/13/12: Hawecker and United States v. Sorensen (E.D. Cal.). –Allegation: defendant sexually harassed female tenants Consent decree: judgment of $2,075,000 in monetary damages. Largest monetary settlement in a sexual harassment suit brought by the US DOJ under the Fair Housing Act. 1/8/14: United States v. Stonebridge (N.D. Tex) –Allegation: persons of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent were denied and those not denied were segregated into designated buildings. Consent decree requires over $300,000 in damages and penalties, staff training, adoption of fair housing policies, and termination of the apartment manager.
DOJ Cases Based on Testing 8/15/13: Consent Decree in U.S. v. Highland Management Group, Inc. (D. Minn.), alleging discrimination against Somalis. Evidence developed by DOJ’s Fair Housing Testing Program. 9/30/13: DOJ filed a complaint against S-2 Properties, Inc.(W D. Pa.), alleging discrimination based on race. Evidence developed by DOJ’s Fair Housing Testing Program. 2/4/14: DOJ filed a complaint in U.S. v. Wallschlaeger (S.D. Ill.), alleging discrimination based on race and familial status. Evidence developed by DOJ’s Fair Housing Testing Program.
Fair Housing and VAWA First HUD Settlement to address rights of domestic violence survivors What is VAWA? The Violence Against Women Act of 2013 (reauthorized from 2005) –protects individuals in federally subsidized housing from discrimination because of status as survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking. Allegation: Woman denied apartment because she refused to provide her children’s Social Security numbers (feared revealing their location). Under settlement, management company agreed to adopt VAWA housing protections, pay monetary damages and attorneys’ fees.
Fair Housing and Caregivers January 29, 2014: Missouri Community Settles Disability Discrimination Charge Disabled resident requested live-in caregiver Management refused -- Policy of 6 month waiting period before adding anyone to lease Resident had no choice but to move
And last but not least, we can’t forget about Donald Sterling!
Policy 1: FH Non-Discrimination Policy Clear and Concise Language – Brief Reflective of all Relevant Laws Includes Complaint Process Print in Large Format Circulate to All (resident and employees) Post Prominently TRAIN
Sample Fair Housing Policy Important Elements: Laws Protected Classes Prohibited Actions Complaint Process
Policy 2: Reasonable Accommodations Policy Clear Statement regarding Compliance Define RA/RM Process for Requesting Process for Review –always case-by-case Information about Denial –INTERACTIVE Process – very important
Sample Manager Guidelines for Handling RA/RM Requests Important Guidelines: 1.) Handling Request 2.) Verifying disability/need 3.) Reviewing the request 4.) Communicating 5.) Documentation 6.) Service Animals
Sample Manager Guidelines for Handling RA/RM Requests (cont’d)
Sample RA/RM Request Form & Reply Letters Sample Forms Check Website for MORE
Policy 3: Occupancy Standards Policies 2 per bedroom generally reasonable but may, in certain circumstances, illegally discriminate against families with children. HUD will consider: Size of bedrooms and unit Age of the children Unit configuration Other physical limitations of property State and local law Policy Checklist
Policy 4: Rental Screening Policy Based on objective criteria & transparent process -- should include: A non-discrimination statement, even if you have a separate non-discrimination policy Statement regarding how vacant units are offered e.g. first-come, first-served Clear and easy-to-understand language about qualification standards
Policy 4: Rental Screening Policy (cont’d) Clear statement of fees How will applicants be notified (both approved & denied)? Are deposits required w/in a certain time frame? What if not timely received? Do you allow co-signers? What are their qualification requirements? Do you have a written waiting list policy?
AVOIDING A LAWSUIT: HANDLING COMPLAINTS & MANAGING EMPLOYEE BEHAVIOR Part 4
Handling Complaints Ensure you have complaint process –Consider discipline for employees that lose or “forget” complaints Respond to all complaints in a timely manner Investigate complaints thoroughly Never ignore - take action Document, Document, Document
Managing Employee Behavior Training Performance Evaluation Self-Testing
Managing Employee Behavior Training –Law/Policies/Expectations - CRUCIAL –Should be in-person/not online –Multilingual (employees may be shy to ask) –Keep it brief and frequent –Be sure upper management can conduct it Sends right message & increases buy-in at all levels
Managing Employee Behavior Performance Evaluation –Accountability if employees know it’s part of what they’re evaluated on, they’ll take it more seriously –Document & Discipline to reduce liability
Managing Employee Behavior Self –Testing –Why? Others may be testing you – find out FIRST & fix potential problems Determine training effectiveness EXCELLENT training tool –How? Phone or in-person Single/matched Internal role-play or outside contractor