Dear Fair Housing Lady: Swimming Pool Discrimination

| July 9, 2013 | 7 Comments

Dear Fair Housing Lady,

I reside in Phx, AZ. However I am advocating for a family who is experiencing discrimination at Ashley Place Apartments in Sacramento. The manager refuses to let hispanic families swim in a pool which is near her office. Supposedly the manager does does not like to see them there. How do I go about placing a complaint to help the family out?”.

Thank you,

 

Goodness. This is why (sadly) I will always have a job as Fair Housing Lady. That an apartment manager would think it is acceptable (legally or otherwise) to bar residents from using an apartment swimming pool is why we have to have fair housing laws. May I suggest that you make contact with the Fair Housing Commission at their Housing Counseling Hotline at 916-444-0178 between the hours of 9am to 4pm. I would be interested in hearing how this issue develops, if either you or the folks you are helping out would care to share…

Category: Race and Color

About Nadeen Green: Nadeen Green has been an attorney since 1979. She has taught Fair Housing law to the multi-family housing industry since the Fair Housing Amendments Act when into effect in 1989. She has been asked to speak numerous times for the National Apartment Association and the Multi-Housing World annual conventions. Her reader-friendly articles on Fair Housing appear regularly in industry publications. Nadeen is proud to be Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions, which offers print and online advertising products for all communities, whether through For Rent Magazine®, ForRent.com, Para Rentar, Senior Outlook, After 55, or specialized publications for condominiums and student housing. .

Comments (7)

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  1. Amanda says:

    Dear Fair Housing Lady,

    If you were going to give any tips to provide to maintenance personnel either on best practices or common mistakes made as it pertains to fair housing issues, what would those be?

    • Nadeen Green says:

      Amanda, that is a question that is huge in scope and I could go on and on about it. In fact, I often do go on and on about maintenance fair housing issues in classes I teach where this is sometimes the entire topic for hours. I have also blogged in other outlets about this as well. So I am going to give you one long answer/tip/best practice with this post and in the days to come I will get back with you (I’ve already marked my calendar to do so) and add subsequent tips (that way I am not overwhelming you or my other readers). So here goes…

      Tip #1 – GET THE PRIORITIES STRAIGHT! A question for those of you who are maintenance professionals – today you have 5 work orders; which resident gets theirs seen to first? You should have a written policy that answers that for you, perhaps based on the type of work order, when it was received, or the time that will need to be put into addressing the problem or the situation. But whatever your policy may be, here is what you need to know. If a person with a disability (PWD) needs (not wants, but needs) their work order addressed ahead of others, you likely will have to do that. This is called a “reasonable accommodation” and it is required of you under the Fair Housing Act for any PWD. Let me illustrate…

      It is hot, muggy and miserable, and you have 5 work orders to repair ACs. You would normally fix each AC in the order in which you received the work orders. Everyone is anxious and cranky with the heat, you are overwhelmed (with both the heat and the work), and then the last resident to put in an AC work order informs you that their child has cystic fibrosis which impacts that child’s breathing ability, and that with the oppressive heat their child will be having more difficulty breathing. Guess what? That resident has a child who is a PWD and now you have the legal obligation to fix that resident’s AC first, despite your policy on “first come, first serve” as to work orders. This is the reasonable accommodation mandated by the law.

      There are many parallels to this. You likely must adjust your snow removal sequence to first clear the walkway of a PWD who uses a wheelchair. You will likely have to prioritize a simple toilet repair even if there are two bathrooms in the apartment when a PWD who uses a wheelchair cannot get into the bathroom with the operable toilet. Timing is everything! Get your priorities in the right order, which may require a re-order for a PWD who needs a reasonable accommodation.

      • Nadeen Green says:

        This Dear Fair Housing Lady post is one of several that will be appearing in response to an excellent question I received asking about issues of fair housing that relate to the fine folks who take care of apartment communities – the maintenance team. Do they (or you for that matter) know what MCS is? Probably not. Do they (or you for that matter) know that MCS can be a disability under the Fair Housing Act? Probably not. And if they (and you) don’t know this, fair housing problems could result.

        Because just because you do not know, it doesn’t mean that others may not be totally aware and informed. I have heard a rumor (from a pretty decent source) that there are folks with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (and now you know!) who go to apartment communities to ask about what will be done if someone with MCS moves in. Whether these folks are fair housing testers or whether they merely want to inform our industry about MCS, you need to have an understanding as to what this is all about.

        HUD concluded in 1992 that MCS can be a disability under the FHA; ordinary allergies do not rise to this standard. MCS has been determined to be a disability in Federal court cases, State court cases, and by other Federal agencies. One court case defined MCS as: an acquired disorder characterized by recurrent symptoms, referable to multiple organ systems, occurring in response to demonstrable exposure to many chemically unrelated compounds at doses far below those established in the general population to cause harmful effects. (Hey, I have a law degree, not a medical degree; those lawyers could have said “some folks systems can be severely impacted when they cannot cope with even small amounts of chemicals that the rest of us manage with just fine”.)

        • Nadeen Green says:

          As promised, here is another maintenance fair housing issue to think about…Sexual harassment in housing can often be brought under the umbrella of Fair Housing, with all of the potential for the significant costs related to fair housing cases. Fair housing law precludes unfavorable treatment because of protected class status. And one of the federal protections is sex (which does not mean doing it; it means gender). When there is sexual harassment it is always based on gender – a maintenance professional who is a straight male will choose females to harass; if he is a gay man, males will be his victims. A maintenance professional who is a straight woman will harass males; if she is a gay woman, females. And those who are transgendered will choose harassment victims based on gender as well.

          There are a surprising number of cases (at least it is surprising to me) of landlords and maintenance folks harassing residents and even requiring that sexual favors be granted in order to have a work order completed. In one particularly creepy case the maintenance staff (guys) were going into the apartments of single women and watching the women sleeping in their beds. BTW – when the management company ignored the women when they complained, that was not a good plan – the settlement in that case was for $1.67 million. Ouch!

          And then there is the recent story I heard from a resident who could not understand why the cable company was billing her for movies, especially during the day when she was a work. You guessed it – her community’s maintenance man was watching porno flicks on her television (and, as she pointed out, while sitting on her couch).

          I am telling you now that the above stories are not good. If you are on the maintenance team, do not even consider fondling your residents. And while you are at it (considering, not fondling), watch out for sexually based stories, jokes, comments and gossip (these are both workplace and fair housing issues). Even the well-intentioned compliment can be misconstrued. For those of you on the management team, consider the wisdom of having company policies about employees dating residents (and even friending them on Facebook). Bottom line is that every should be good and be smart. And keep up on the developments in the area of social media, technology and workplace and housing issues. The technology is moving so fast and far that the legal system is not yet in sync.

          Oh, but what is that you are now saying? That folks in maintenance are often not the bad guys/gals? That they themselves are often subject to harassing situations created by your residents? You are so right! And your company should work to keep maintenance protected from any unwanted sexual situations. (If you are “the company” and you have no policies to protect your maintenance staff, get on this now! It is your legal duty under employment laws.) While there are lots of ways to reduce (not eliminate) harassment by residents – the buddy system for example – there is one policy that stands out above them all. I do not take credit for this idea, because it was told to me by a maintenance professional in one of my presentations…”Unless there is an emergency – fire, flood or blood – no maintenance professional shall be doing any work in any unit if he/she will be home alone with any minor child.” Maintenance folks are not paid enough to risk going to jail for doing their jobs. (And BTW – minor means under the age of 18, no matter the age of consent in your state.)

          You shouldn’t be fondling anyone in the workplace – but they should not be fondling you, either.

          • Nadeen Green says:

            Here is yet another sequential post about maintenance fair housing issues, in response to a question to Fair Housing Lady as to what might be some of the maintenance issues in this important area of the law. I have not by any means covered all the issues in my recent posts, and I welcome further questions or ideas on this topic – I do rely on all of you for guidance as to what is really important or relevant at your communities.

            I have been teaching fair housing to our industry for 24+ years now (somehow that was never the plan and I still sometimes look around and wonder how this all came to be) yet I still get the question about AIDS. The question is about the special precautions that should be taken by maintenance when doing a work order for a resident who has AIDS (or is thought to have AIDS). So what precautions should be taken? Hint – it is a one word answer – cue the Jeopardy! music, please.

            Da-da-dah, da-da-dah…

            And the answer is: NONE! Yep, that’s right – no special precautions based on the resident when working in an apartment. Precautions should never be special, they should be standard for the type of work order, not the resident. So if you are working on a toilet – anyone’s toilet – it might make sense to wear gloves and spray with bleach. (Especially because while you are likely not going to get AIDS from working on a toilet, there are other nasty diseases you just might catch – hepatitis comes to mind.) If you are worried about catching air borne disease from residents, feel free to wear a mask – just wear it for everyone. Every community should have its work order protocol as to how each type of situation will be handled – and I repeat, a situation is the work order, not the resident.

            So no special precautions for residents with AIDS, and no standing in puddles when you are working with electric wires.

  2. JM says:

    Hi Nadeen
    Can you recommend a resource for me to go to? We are a Condo association in Massachusetts. We have a concern with children in diapers entering the pool. Can you recommend any case law or statutory citations to review?
    Thank you.

    • Nadeen Green says:

      Amanda, that is a question that is huge in scope and I could go on and on about it. In fact, I often do go on and on about maintenance fair housing issues in classes I teach where this is sometimes the entire topic for hours. I have also blogged in other outlets about this as well. So I am going to give you one long answer/tip/best practice with this post and in the days to come I will get back with you (I’ve already marked my calendar to do so) and add subsequent tips (that way I am not overwhelming you or my other readers). So here goes…

      Tip #1 – GET THE PRIORITIES STRAIGHT! A question for those of you who are maintenance professionals – today you have 5 work orders; which resident gets theirs seen to first? You should have a written policy that answers that for you, perhaps based on the type of work order, when it was received, or the time that will need to be put into addressing the problem or the situation. But whatever your policy may be, here is what you need to know. If a person with a disability (PWD) needs (not wants, but needs) their work order addressed ahead of others, you likely will have to do that. This is called a “reasonable accommodation” and it is required of you under the Fair Housing Act for any PWD. Let me illustrate…

      It is hot, muggy and miserable, and you have 5 work orders to repair ACs. You would normally fix each AC in the order in which you received the work orders. Everyone is anxious and cranky with the heat, you are overwhelmed (with both the heat and the work), and then the last resident to put in an AC work order informs you that their child has cystic fibrosis which impacts that child’s breathing ability, and that with the oppressive heat their child will be having more difficulty breathing. Guess what? That resident has a child who is a PWD and now you have the legal obligation to fix that resident’s AC first, despite your policy on “first come, first serve” as to work orders. This is the reasonable accommodation mandated by the law.

      There are many parallels to this. You likely must adjust your snow removal sequence to first clear the walkway of a PWD who uses a wheelchair. You will likely have to prioritize a simple toilet repair even if there are two bathrooms in the apartment when a PWD who uses a wheelchair cannot get into the bathroom with the operable toilet. Timing is everything! Get your priorities in the right order, which may require a re-order for a PWD who needs a reasonable accommodation.

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