What You Missed February 2017 General Meeting
by Rob Earhart
The Fair Housing Update
February 7, 2017
Ms. Gang began, “Fair housing is a boring subject but it is very necessary.” “How many have had to go through fair housing complaints?” asked Nena.
There have been some complaints filed and settled. My first project was with a case from McDill Air Force Base, but it was finally resolved.
Nena explained that the federal requirements for Fair Housing are the protected classes of race, color, national origin, religion, sex (gender), familial status, children under 18, and disability (physical or mental impairment).
Pinellas County has an agreement with all the cities in the county that they will follow these rules.
Some of the things that get us into trouble are:
- Lying about available units
- Setting different rental terms or fees for different people
- Failing to respond to vacancy inquiries.
We can grade applicants on:
- Their credit history, with only three places to look now
- Their job history
- Any previous rental history
- Any criminal background (but is coming under pressure to allow if a person has fulfilled their term, should be allowed to rent from you)
- Occupancy standards (Keating memo stated that the landlord may set “Standard Reasonable Standards,” but they have to apply to everyone equally)
She informed, “I was at a 400-unit apartment building last year and there were two full-blown meth labs operating in the complex.”
Nena informed us that, “If you have a one-bedroom and want to rent to two adults with an 18 month old, you are ok, but not with an older child or adult.”
A question came up: Do you have to rent to a sex offender because, if they offend again, you may be held liable? Nena said that if your policy states that you do not accept offenders, you can exclude them.
Also, RICO statutes allow that, if a drug dealer rents from you, the police can confiscate your house if caught. “I have not had any problems from RICO but it can happen,” said Nena.
Nena went on, “with a drug offender, you must check thoroughly to see if they are an offender. I live in a nice area and on my street there are seven offenders, some sex, some drug. Now I live in a house with a fence and a yard, but I would hate to live in a 400-unit apartment complex with those offenders around me.”
Can we turn them down for that? “I would say ‘yes’ if you have a policy of not accepting sex offenders. You can also not accept felons, but there may be some pushback, she noted. “I have had 10 cases of a maintenance person inappropriately touching a child or someone, and charges were dismissed, but they ended up on a list.”
I believe you would be safe if you have a policy stating that you do not accept felons, domestic violent offenders, etc. When they are filling out the application you need to inform them that if there is a problem, you need to know about it now.
Nena warned, “when you hear a question like: How many (protected class persons) are living here? Warning! You must say that everyone living there is qualified. Don’t get baited.”
What are the biggest problems?
- Unspoken permission – If someone in a crowd makes fun of anyone and you allow it, you are giving unspoken permission and can be liable.
- Fostering prejudice or bigotry – There is a certain degree of prejudice against immigrants now. Do we have to rent to illegal immigrants? They must pass the background and credit check and should come through an agency so they should weed out illegals. You must check if they have a visa or a passport, and you won’t be renting to someone who has no source of income.
- Being insensitive to cultural diversity issues.
So, what’s the solution?
Disabilities – Handicaps (HUD’S definition)
I have seen a tenant that had an assistance dog and two assistance cats. HUD and the lawyers say if the disability is apparent, you do not need documentation. If it is not apparent, you have them produce a document showing proof of need. It can be a doctor, a minister, or some other official to sign their need.
In the old days, people who had a seeing-eye dog, that was generally for a person non-sighted. Then we progressed up to service animals. In 1980, we had the American Disabilities Act that dealt with workplaces. What we deal with today are assistance animals that can be any variety that help an individual with a disability to have a better quality of life while dealing with the day-to-day life. Cats, dogs, turtles, fish, birds, reptiles, non-venomous pets.
Someone can walk in with a 144-pound dog and state that I need a comfort animal because of some disability that you cannot see.
Where we deal with 400 units and 500 or more cars the issue becomes they want their own parking space right outside their door. From the disability side, that’s the main problem we see now.
If the landlord has to make reasonable accommodations, the work must be paid by the tenant. If a ramp is put in, the resident is not required to remove it when leaving or if the door is widened and is usable, it does not have to be returned to a narrow one.
If you had to change out the stove or reduce the height of the cabinets they would have to return it to original. The landlord can add to a deposit to make sure there is money to repair.
If they are unreasonable because of the age of the building, you can set up a meeting with a contractor to get a price. Once they see the price, sometimes they just drop the project.
Nena advised, “I have stepped down from the day-to-day operations but, if you need anything, please call me directly and I will help if I can.”
Nena remained after the meeting to answer some more questions.