The Burden of Housing Restrictions on Landlords and Staff
I really do enjoy the conversations I have daily with owners, developers and managers in our business. The frustrations, challenges and successes they experience each day reminds me how far we have come in running our properties.
Today we have software systems (cloud based) that combine accounting, management, tenant records (contact management), documents and even maintenance records. No longer do we need to keep cabinets of files or any written documents. Tenants pay rent, view units, schedule repairs, and renew leases completely on-line. Regional and national offices have the same access to records as the on-site staff - no need to mail or fax or triple copy each department. So in some ways our jobs are becoming easier and our properties easier to manage.
But with every advance comes new challenges. Our staff now needs to be trained on fair housing, litigation support, privacy screening, HUD regulations, company policy and so many new areas of potential litigation.
Arizona is in the midst of passing new legislation that will require our on-site managers to determine if a rental applicant is in the US legally before they can rent to them. We are already required to determine if a job applicant/employee and now if a vendor/subcontractor has legal status to be in in the country.
This morning I was speaking with a friend who was pointing out the way the world has changed. As he said, twenty-five years ago, I decided who I wanted to rent to and it was my decision. Twenty years ago I was told who I had to rent to. Now I’m being told what happens if I rent to the wrong person. Problem is, I’m not allowed to even use my own judgment anymore - I can be sued and/or jailed for doing so.
We joked about the old TV sitcom “Three’s company”, in which Jack Tripper had to pretend he was gay to share an apartment with two single women. The landlord would never have allowed the three of them to live together, even in the very free thinking time of the 1970’s and in a the free spirited town of San Diego. (which made for hours of fun dialog and humor)
But, putting aside well understood the horrors of discrimination for discussions sake, it’s interesting to understand today, that the Three’s Company landlord would have been in more trouble from federal and civil agencies for refusing to rent the apartment then he would have been from the neighborhood for harboring socially unacceptable behavior (co-habitation of single coeds).
Is is safe to say that social pressure, virtue and common sense are being trumped by political correctness?
I’ll give you another example. A few years ago I was marketing a large student housing property. The property had developed a population of primarily Indian students. The seasoned staff knew enough to ask specific questions of the applicants to understand what class/sect they were from in India, then placed them in areas of the property (floors, or sections) where renters were of the same sect. From the outsider’s perspective, this may have seemed like a discriminatory practice. From a common sense perspective it was genius. There were rarely conflicts and because the residents recognized the staff understood their culture, the property was always fully leased before the school year.
I understand the need for regulations and enforcement of restrictions, but I clearly see a need for more common sense approach to their implementation. I don’t want my staff to take on the role of a customs agent, bouncer, detective, or document specialist. I just want them to treat our residents fairly and excercise good judgment.
As always, open to your thoughts and comments.