“Ask Kari” is a monthly, Question & Answer feature from Kari Negri. Kari has two decades of property management experience, is a featured speaker at many industry trade shows, such as AAGLA’s annual trade show, and is the CEO of SKY Properties, Inc. in Los Angeles.
The first thing I thought when I was asked to write an article about Fair Housing was, wow what can I say about Fair Housing – that it is fair? I started to say that Fair Housing was put into place for a good reason, when I got a picture in my head of a crazy complaining tenant (you know the one), and I had to admit that it doesn’t always work out that way.
So many of us as housing providers have been slapped with crazy fines and fees because a tenant had a bone to pick and they used Fair Housing as a vehicle to seek revenge, regardless of the housing provider’s intent. Take for example an on-site manager who issued a letter to a tenant that asked her not to leave her children unsupervised in the courtyard, as they were doing damage to the building. Of course, the manager’s intent was to prevent further damage to the building and to limit the noise complaints that she received from other tenants. That letter earned her a personal $250 fine and the owner a $2500 fine. Fair Housing said they got off easy. If the manager had written this letter slightly different and had received the educated input from the owner, this might have worked out differently.
The real problem is that although Fair Housing was created for a reason and most of us take this very seriously, sometimes the pettiness of some of the “crimes” can diminish the original intent.
I will never forget going to my first Fair Housing class. I did not know whether to be fascinated by how many ways you could get into trouble, or be transfixed by the number of amusing horror stories, most of which were the result of a total lack of education, not being the brightest bunny in the forest, or last just plain carelessness. I could not believe some of the words that could not be used – I just had no idea.
At first Fair Housing seems to be a straightforward set of rules and laws. Or you naively believe that simply having good values and intentions is enough to rent apartments and not get into trouble – nothing could be further from the truth. Fair Housing is not only complex, but it has rules and issues that vary on a constant basis. One day you are free to run an ad that says, “You are steps from the beach” and the next day you are being slapped with a lawsuit because not everyone can “step” to the beach. As housing providers, we are asked questions like “what kind of people live in the building?” or “how many kids live here?” Most of the time these questions seem completely innocent, but we are not allowed to answer them, and the longer I am in this business the longer the list grows. I am afraid to say the word “kid” now – it’s just crazy but it’s true. Personally I have learned to call my 2 kids “monkeys” instead just so I don’t mistakenly use a “bad” word. Although I am sure that there is also a way of manipulating my endearing term to something that could also get me into trouble and that is the real problem with these incessantly changing laws is that as soon as you think you understand them – they change them again. It is extremely important for anyone that works in property management takes a Fair Housing class every year, especially those that do any type of marketing or renting in our industry. I am always surprised and sometimes entertained at what is happening at Fair Housing, so it is always a class worth taking. Be sure to take the class from someone who really knows what is happening in our industry as instructor knowledge in this field is vital. I highly recommend Denise Cato at AAGLA – she is both informative and entertaining.
I recently read an article in the LA Times written by Lew Sichelman on January 26, 2014. In his article he makes a big mistake where Fair Housing is concerned and doesn’t even know it (although I did try to call him). He writes and I quote “Screening. This is more than determining whether the potential guest can fog a mirror. The pros make sure the tenant is qualified by income, age and background.” WHAT? Now if you follow this advice, I would imagine that the fines you could rack up could be endless and very painful to your pocketbook. I urge you to screen tenants based on income and credit but I do not recommend taking background and age into account when renting out a unit unless you want to pay a huge penalty and possibly end up in court.
In closing I would like to encourage you to take action and stay on top of whatever is happening in Fair Housing by taking a class and always keeping informed as it not only can save you a lot of time, trouble and money – it can help us all as an industry to provide housing without discrimination. https://www.aagla.org/
As always, please remember, I am not an attorney. Seek clarification through your attorney. All articles are simply an opinion. Stay in touch at www.GetSky.net
Do you need professional property management from Kari Negri and SKY Properties, Inc.? visit our contact page to get started.