Some major steps for resolving fair housing complaints are:
Call Your Lawyer
In case, you receive notice of a fair housing complaint and you do not have the in-house legal expertise to handle formal fair housing cases, you should contact an attorney who is well-versed in fair housing law and who understands federal, state, and local fair housing laws applicable to your community and how they are enforced. Your attorney has the right to prepare your response, oversee the investigation, and communicate with the HUD investigator on your behalf.
Be Conversant with State and Local Process
You should stay familiar with the state and local laws and procedures that are applicable to your community. Anyone who seeks to file a complaint against you could bypass HUD and file a claim directly with your state’s fair housing agency or the local fair housing office in your county or city. These include complaints that could have been filed on the federal level since all state and local laws overlap with the federal ban on discrimination based on color, religion, race, sex, familial status, national origin, and disability.
State or local housing agencies can and do pursue claims for discrimination based on any of the above-protected characteristics.
Designate a Fair Housing Coordinator
In case, you do not have one already, appoint someone to act as your point person to expedite your response to the complaint. The best person would be someone who is a manager or an experienced employee who understands fair housing laws and procedures and can act as your in-house resource for all fair housing matters including training, recordkeeping, and procedures.
Collect Relevant Documents and Witness Data
As and when a complaint comes into focus, make sure to read it carefully to find out what your community has been accused of, who was allegedly involved, and when it was supposed to have happened. Then put in place the relevant documentation required to defend yourself.
Cooperate With Investigator
As and when the complaint has been accepted, HUD or its state or local counterpart will begin its investigation by requesting documents and other details to determine whether there is a reasonable cause to believe that your community violated the housing law.
It remains in your best interest to cooperate in the investigation.
HUD investigations are officially supposed to be done within 100 days. But at times it takes longer. Hence it is always vital to gather the documents requested by the investigator. Depending on nature or the compliant, the data request may include rent rolls and comparables to show that people were treated the same under similar circumstances. Also, it is customary for investigators to interview almost everyone involved and you possess the right to have your attorney when witnesses are questioned.
The law requires HUD or its partner agency, during the investigation phases, to try to work out a settlement vide a process called ‘Conciliation’.
At times, you may not want to settle on principle or feel that it’s unfair that you are being accused of something you have not done. Ultimately it is a business decision and the goal is to resolve the complaint swiftly at the least cost and with little damage to your reputation and operations.
Avoid Retaliation Claims
Make sure to avoid even the appearance of retaliation against anyone who files or even threatens to file a fair housing complaint against your community.
Under the FHA, it is considered as a separate offense to threaten or coerce or intimidate or interfere with anyone who is exercising a fair housing right or assisting others who exercise that right.
Stay On Top of Paperwork
To defend self and community, it is important to have good recordkeeping from accusations of a fair housing violation. This is because filing a fair housing complaint takes months or years since the alleged discrimination took place.
Without proper paperwork, it is not possible for you to remember what happened and even if you do remember then it will be not as good as documentation created at the time of the events in question.
Focus On Training
It makes good sense to conduct fair housing training at regular intervals, that is, at least once or twice a year. This will require an investment in training wherein the entire staff from leasing consultants to maintenance workers and housekeepers, understand that they are expected to comply with fair housing laws when interacting with applicants or prospects or residents or their guests, regardless of color, race, or any other protected characteristics.
Guidance on health and Safety Inspection
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