Fair Housing Trade Off

This last Friday at the monthly NARPM meeting we had a guest speaker discuss Fair Housing guidelines and issues.  It was a great presentation, much of which we already knew as well as some new developments.  As property managers we need to be aware of protected classes such as Race, Color, Religion, National Origin, Sex, Family Status, and Mental of Physical Disability at the Federal level as well as Source of Income, Marital Status, Sexual Orientation, and Gender Identity for the state of Oregon.  Then, depending on which county or city you live in you need to consider Type of Occupation, Ethnicity, Ancestry, Domestic Partnership, Domestic Violence Survivors and Section 8 Vouchers.  North of the border in Seattle you also cannot discriminate in renting based on Political Ideology.

These protected classes have been created to address wrongs that have been perpetuated intentionally or unintentionally in the past by landlords.  Most landlords now who are property managers or have taken Fair Housing courses are familiar with protected classes and Fair Housing guidelines. It did not help things when Fair Housing Council of Oregon audit results released in the spring of 2011 stated that 64% of Portland metro area landlords were discriminating against protected classes.  It was later determined that several landlords listed in the audit were not actually tested and BOLI (Bureau of Labor and Industry) confirmed the test conclusions were inaccurate (http://issuu.com/rhagp/docs/april2012_update?mode=window).  This does not serve to build trust or a cooperative spirit and dialogue between the Fair Housing Council and landlords.  The Fair Housing Council of Oregon has received a grant and is conducting a new audit.  Hopefully this audit will be conducted in a fair, consistent and ethical manner with results that reflect the actual residential rental industry status.

The goal of the Fair Housing Council " to eliminate illegal housing discrimination through enforcement and education across Oregon and southwest Washington." It is noble in its intent and desire that each person who desires to rent a place of their choosing may be able to do so on a fair and level playing field.  Yet in their zeal to enforce fairness they also harm many of the people they are seeking to help.  The mantra you hear from landlords now is to treat everyone the same.  If you don't it may mean you face a fine or lawsuit.  However, treating everyone the same means you repress your desire to help individual tenants in their unique situations.  This means you don't offer helpful suggestions to a prospective tenant because that might be construed as "steering".  It means you always charge late fees even if that long term tenant that has always paid their rent on time had some unexpected medical bills and will have to pay their rent late and you would like to waive the fee.  In seeking to be fair and conform the letter of the law we squeeze out compassion, concern and care for our fellow human beings. The challenge is to adhere to the law yet view and treat each person, not as a potential lawsuit, but with respect and dignity and a genuine concern for their well being.