Renters protected against discrimination by anyone
WASHINGTION – May 22, 2019 – Property managers can be held legally responsible for discrimination and harassment by contractors, such as maintenance workers. The same is true if one tenant is infringing on the rights of another tenant, according to experts who spoke at the National Association of Realtors® (NAR)'s recent meetings in Washington, D.C. It's also true if one tenant's guests are harassing another tenant.
Fred Underwood, director of diversity and inclusion at NAR, encouraged property managers to have policies in place regarding tenant-on-tenant and visitor harassment before an incident occurs.
"If you wait until it happens, you're going to have lawyers coming to see you," Underwood said.
Property managers have no legal entitlement to stay out of tenant disputes, according to John Relman, managing partner at civil rights law firm Relman, Dane & Colfax
"A lot of landlords say they don't want to get involved in [personal] squabbles between tenants, but they routinely get involved when a tenant complains about loud music or odors, for example," Relman said. However, property managers need to be aware that they have a similar responsibility to get involved in tenant-on-tenant discrimination and harassment claims.
Relman said he currently represents a black renter who was threatened and called racial epithets by a fellow tenant in his building. Relman's client informed his management company about the harassment, but it took no action to stop it. The offending tenant eventually moved out of the building on his own accord, but Relman's client sued the building owner and management company over their inaction. The case is still being adjudicated in the 2nd District Court of Appeals, but Relman said it's already having an impact on the property management business.
"This case shows that if you are indifferent or don't take steps to stop harassment in your building – no matter who it's coming from – you can face legal consequences," he said.
William P. Cannon III, principal and chair of the Landlord Representation Group at law firm Offit Kurman, offered some action steps property managers can take to comply with fair housing law in the case of tenant harassment. Chief among them: "Don't do nothing" when you receive a complaint, Cannon said. Other steps include:
- Make reasonable accommodations
Property managers must show an attempt to accommodate a tenant's request or mitigate their concerns. Cannon suggested having tenants fill out a request form so that you can evaluate their situations and complaints. Then, approach the owner of the building you manage and inform them of their obligations to tenant requests under fair housing law. "If your client [the owner] says they're not going to do it, you might want to get a new client," Cannon said.
- Treat people fairly
Use respectful language to show tenants that you care about their concerns, suggested Cannon. "Tenants want to make [their complaints] personal to you because it's personal to them."
- Keep good records
Create a paper trail, such as with tenant request forms, that demonstrates your support for tenants who make discrimination or harassment claims. "Most cases are won, lost or settled based on records," Cannon said. Additionally, create work tickets and invoices for tenant maintenance requests to show you are responsive to their needs. "Some tenants may feel they are not getting the same level of service as other tenants," Cannon added, "and good records can prove that to be false."
- Get advice
"When tenants have a question that may have a fair housing component, it's OK if you don't know the answer," Cannon said. Contact local fair housing organizations or legal hotlines when you are unsure of how to respond. "Many times, tenants will want you to know the answer right away. It's much better to tell them you need to seek advice than give an incorrect answer that possibly violates the law."
Source: Realtor Magazine, Graham Wood
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Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved.