Don’t Get Slapped with Fair Housing Act Claim

September 28, 2017
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No matter how large or small the community association you manage is, you’ll need to employ at least a few staff members. While they should receive training that’s specific to their job, there’s one type of training that’s necessary for everyone: how to abide by the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It’s easy to forget that maintenance workers, who fulfill many of their job duties without coming into contact with the community’s members, will sooner or later have interactions with home or condo owners.

If an association fails to give its maintenance staff fair housing training and a member believes that a maintenance worker’s conduct violated fair housing law, you could receive a discrimination complaint. You can prevent such complaints at your community—and avoid a potential lawsuit against the association—by setting a fair housing code of conduct for maintenance workers and properly training them on how to follow it.

So how do you implement a code of conduct? One of the rules you incorporate into your fair housing code of conduct should be that staff must treat all members the same way. Tell your staff to avoid giving some members preferential treatment. Members who aren’t favored by staff could interpret that as being discriminatory behavior. For example, you make repairs for members that you know well without requiring them to fill out the maintenance request paperwork required by association policy, but you ask other members to submit the paperwork before you’ll make repairs. Because you’ve treated some members differently, it could open the association up to a discrimination charge.

Also stress that staff shouldn’t fraternize with members. Remind your maintenance staff that a worker who gets overly involved with community members might cross the line between friendly service and harassment. For example, you frequently see a particular female member around the community and often talk about the weather and current events. You ask her out to lunch. But if your attempt to take her on a date makes her uncomfortable, she could sue both you and the association for sexual harassment.

For four more rules to include in your code, and a model code that you and your attorney can adapt for your community, see “Train Maintenance Staff to Follow Fair Housing Rules,” available to subscribers here.