Fair housing testing is an essential tool for ensuring that property owners and managers comply with fair housing laws. The practice involves sending testers, who pose as potential renters, to assess whether landlords and property managers are engaging in discriminatory practices. As a landlord or property manager, it’s crucial to be prepared for when a tester comes to call. In this article, we’ll explore who can be a tester and the common methods they employ. We’ll also share tips to help ensure that you don’t fail your fair housing test.
Who Can Be a Tester and Where Can They Test?
Testers can come from various backgrounds and organizations. They can work for state fair housing departments, private fair housing advocacy groups, or the Department of Justice. Regardless of who they work for, their goal is to ascertain whether landlords and property managers are following the law and are fair housing compliant.
Testers use leading questions to target known trouble spots within the industry. Vague or leading questions should immediately set off warning bells in your mind that you are talking to a tester. You need to be sure that you are not saying or doing anything that could be interpreted as a violation.
Where might you come across a tester? Essentially, any place a potential renter would cross paths with a leasing agent can be a testing ground. Testers employ all forms of contact, including phone, email, social media outlets and on-site visits. By far, though, the phone is the most widely used as it is the most cost- and time-efficient. Let’s consider two common topics used by telephone testers.
What Are Your Pet Policies?
One of the most common topics used in testing is about animals or pets. Testers will give just enough information to see how you or your staff respond. For example, a person calls in and says they are interested in your property but want to make sure their dog would be allowed, and the dog is a German Shepherd. It’s essential to note that the person said “their dog,” not “their pet.”
By assuming that the dog is a pet and wouldn’t pass your breed restriction policy, you could be setting yourself up for a fair housing complaint. Best practices dictate that pet policies can be discussed as long as assistance-animal policies are also shared. Along with that, it is always a good policy to encourage the person to come in and fill out an application, as that is what will genuinely determine eligibility.
Is Your Property Accessible?
Another common question during fair housing testing is about accessibility. Consider this scenario, a person calls in and asks if the property is accessible because they require the use of mobility aids. It’s crucial to note that even if a property is not very accessible, and you have the best of intentions, you should never disclose this information and should avoid recommending more accessible properties. This can appear as discrimination and steering, which are violations of fair housing laws.
The correct response is to encourage them to visit the property’s website to see more images and arrange for a tour if they wish. You should never discourage a potential renter from coming in to take a tour or fill out an application under any circumstances.
Tips to Help Ensure You Pass Your Fair Housing Test
- Educate yourself and your team: Proper training is key to ensuring fair housing compliance. It’s essential to educate yourself and your team on fair housing laws, including federal, state, and local laws. Make sure you are familiar with protected classes and any exemptions that may apply to your property.
- Have clear policies and procedures: Develop clear policies and procedures for renting your property, including pet policies and assistance-animal policies. Make sure they are easily accessible to anyone who needs them.
- Document everything: Document everything, including conversations with potential renters and any decisions you make regarding their eligibility. This documentation can be helpful in case of a fair complaint.
These are just a few topics that can come up during a fair housing test, but anything related to fair housing can be utilized. Regardless of whether you agree with testing and the tactics testers are legally allowed to use, fair housing training is key to ensuring fair housing compliance.
The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. provides fair housing training and not legal advice. The users of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. web site and its educational information should understand that the information provided within its site is not a substitute for legal advice by competent attorneys. For more information, visit www.fairhousinginstitute.com.