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Consistently fair housing: is each member of your team communicating consistent responses to the five most asked questions from residents and prospects?

Thirty-nine years ago, the Civil Rights Act of 1968, Title VIII, mandated that housing choices could not be limited by unfair housing actions toward anyone. For the next 20 years, housing providers and owners learned the many definitions, examples and practices of the word "fair." Sometimes they learned this through education and sometimes through having the courtroom as their classroom.

During the next 19 years following the enactment of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the definitions, examples and practice emphasis shifted to the word "consistent." Housing providers have scrutinized their practices, policies and procedures to make sure that their intents did not have the effects of unlawful discrimination. That involves not just the delivery of consistent service, but also consistency of the team's delivery.

An apartment community's practices, policies and procedures may be fair and consistent; however, the way in which staff members communicate those may not be consistent. Today, fair housing testers might speak to one team member via phone and speak with yet another during the community tour. Their purpose is to determine if the team is consistent in communicating business practices, procedures and treatment to future residents.

It is important that team members deliver similar or the same responses to day-to-day questions from current and future residents. For those who think that their staff members know what management expects them to communicate, try, this experiment. At the next team meeting, distribute a sheet with two everyday questions to each staff member. Ask them to turn in their answers at the end of the meeting.

There is a good chance that staff will return dissimilar answers within all teams. If all responses are similar and just need a little tweaking, then congratulate staff who is responsible for providing training to team members.

To increase the number of consistent responses, ask each team to identify and discuss the top five questions they are asked regularly. Then, work together to craft preferred responses. Once all teams have completed the exercise, send the responses to the corporate office for review. Legal counsel may want certain questions answered a particular way for liability, reasons.

It is the objective of many professional development trainers to avoid having team members sound robotic or scripted, but to allow personalities to shine throughout their work. It is possible to have blended responses (specific answers with diverse flair); it just takes time to allow for practice.

Completing the top five everyday responses is just the beginning. Management will now recognize other areas in need of scrutiny on the way to realizing that it is possible to be consistent and creative.

Fair Housing Hot Water: Top 5 Questions

It is important that team members deliver similar responses to everyday questions from current and future residents. While the top five day-to-day questions vary by location and type of community, the answers staff give are of utmost importance when local fair housing agencies come to test.

The Leasing Team

* What nationalities of people live here?

* Do you have a roach problem at this community?

* Is this neighborhood safe for my daughter?

* Can I avoid living near children?

* What is the age group living here?

The Management Team

* Why did my neighbor get less of a rent increase?

* Why haven't you turned on the air conditioning yet?

* My neighbor has a dog. Isn't this a "no pet" community?

* The smoke from my neighbor's apartment aggravates my asthma. What can you do about it?

* Why was my car towed?

The Maintenance Team

* I want an appointment. Exactly when will the service technician arrive?

* What will you do to get my new apartment ready for my move-in?

* Do you have a master key to enter to my apartment for service requests?

* Can I request to be home when the service technician arrives? I'm available only on the weekends.

* Why does Mrs. Jones get preferential treatment? (While completing a service request.)

Shirley A. Robertson, CPM, is an EHO & ADA Compliance Officer. She can be reached at or 703/902-9423.
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Author:Robertson, Shirley A.
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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