Ignorance of Fair Housing Laws is NO defense!
Accessibility issues are the biggest number of Fair Housing complaints. American Baby Boomers hit Social Security age a few years ago. Many of them acquire handicapped parking documents, stickers, mirror hangers.
The handicap must be legitimate. The person requesting accomodations may be required to provide a document from a medical professional stating that they do indeed meet the HUD definition of a handicap which is a physical or mental impairment that limits one or more major activities. One of our biggest challenges is parking, as almost everyone in this age group wants a parking space of their own, right outside their door. Often this is logistically impossible. There is no such thing as a ’reserved handicapped parking’ space. The appropriate way to comply with a requested accommodation parking space is a reserved space sign with a permit number. No blue paint, no wheelchair or other symbol. In all cases of required/requested accessibility, it is better to err on the side of the customer/handicapped person. It is smart to comply in every way possible to accommodate this group; to go above and beyond!
Environmental issues are focused on smoking, both cigarettes and marijuana. It would be rare to find a state, city, or public place that takes the smoker’s side. Smoking is not a protected status. Many property management companies and developers are setting aside nonsmoking buildings or are planning to in the near future. This issue will grow with time with second hand smoke determined dangerous to nonsmokers. Prescription marijuana in smoking form creates complaints from nonsmoking neighbors. You should not suggest a means of taking medical marijuana. This issue is viewed differently in different states. Federal law states that marijuana is illegal and lists it a Class 1 drug as is heroin. 30 plus states have approved medical marijuana despite Federal law. We will watch how this unfolds.
Occupancy standards are no longer simple. Nationally, HUD has a basic 2 per bedroom recommendation; however, states and cities now are considering the size of the apartment, and
even room arrangement. A few states including Texas and California have a state law, adding ‘plus one additional occupant.’ This seems to be the trend, and I expect it to expand further. If you offer a 1 bedroom ‘den’ and limit it to 2 people, you may be told that it will sleep 4 or more if your property is investigated. Expect scrutiny of your occupancy standards.
What is most important is for you and your company to know all local and state laws and guidelines, not just Federal. It would be impossible for us to address every state and city here. Just remember that ignorance is no excuse in the eyes of the law. There is extensive education available; to plead “We didn’t know” won’t go far!
Newest rulings protect those with Limited English Proficiency, those with criminal backgrounds, and violence and harassment against women. Stay educated!
Display your Fair Housing poster for public view. Testers look for it!
Anne Sadovsky has been in the industry since 1968 and has taught Fair Housing since 1988 at national and state conferences, companies, associations and webinars.