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Inspections That Create Fair Housing Issues

The Fine Line Between Protecting Your Property and Being Judgmental

One of our inspectors recently asked for advice about the fair housing issue they encountered during a Pre-REAC Inspection. During the inspection, the manager told the tenant, “Your housekeeping is unacceptable.” We hear statements like this frequently, but in this case, the manager continued. She added, “and you should be ashamed of yourself.” There is a fine line between tracking housekeeping to protect health and safety and your assets, and being judgmental. You should be careful to avoid the latter.

Fair Housing Issues During Regular Tenant Discussions

This incident brought up a discussion around our office about when we should intervene and provide advice. We spent some time researching fair housing complaints from the last twenty years. We found countless stories about managers sending residents personal notes and letters, using exclamation points, ALL CAPS, and other writing that provides a pejorative and judgmental tone.

Defining “Housekeeping” for Lease Enforcement

Most leases have provisions regarding housekeeping standards, and it is the right of the owner/manager to perform inspections to enforce these standards. However, try confining the interpretation of “housekeeping”  to the following:

  • Is the condition of the tenant’s housekeeping damaging the unit’s components
  • Is the resident infringing on other’s right to peaceful enjoyment of the property?
  • Are there hazardous conditions present? Such as doors that don’t open or close, windows that can’t stay up, or obstructed outlets or switches?

A few examples of risks to health and safety caused by poor housekeeping include:

  • Items in a unit that have been stacked so high that they are at risk of falling
  • Stored objects of significant size and weight that impede access to the building’s exits
  • Flammable items stored by furnaces or inside an oven

If any of these conditions exist due to “hoarding,” it should be treated as a disability. However, in some cases, it is just “clutter,” or someone is adjusting to a small apartment. While you have the right to protect your property from damage and the owner from liability, be respectful of a resident’s attachment to their belongings. You should positively acknowledge a resident’s attempts to seek support and correct issues. A reasonable-accommodation may be warranted to provide time to correct the condition.

Determining When Housekeeping Inspections Are Warranted

If you conduct “special inspections” such as housekeeping inspections – how do you determine the unit-inspections are warranted? In the end, fair housing issues occur when people fail to treat residents equally and fairly.

  • Are you following up in the same way for each resident?
  • If you send a resident a letter regarding their housekeeping, do you keep out judgemental words out of the letter?
  • Always keep emotion and judgment out of your wording and use the same letter for each resident.
  • Don’t use words like “dirty, stinky, filthy, lazy.”
  • Instead, simply state “unsanitary” or “risking the property’s assets.”

Lastly, there is no need to lecture to a resident. Send them a notice about violations of their lease, and terminate their lease if the issue doesn’t improve. However, it’s not your place to get a resident to change their life.

If this is observed during a REAC  Inspection – make a note of it, send the resident a notice later.  Do not start a heated confrontation with the resident during the inspection. This only makes the inspector uncomfortable, and the resident will feel embarrassed and defensive.

If you should ever have any questions about REAC inspections, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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