Importance of Incorporating Fair Housing into Staff Training

Regulation | April 10, 2018 | by

2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.  Training staff and volunteers in fair housing may help prevent having avoidable fair housing complaints filed against you. Here are some low-cost (or no-cost) suggestions to keep on top of issues.

Fair Housing Act at 50

Most people know that the Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability in a variety of housing and housing-related activities. What many people may not know is that 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act.

The enactment of the federal Fair Housing Act on April 11, 1968 came only after a long and difficult journey. From 1966-1967, Congress regularly considered the fair housing bill, but failed to garner a strong enough majority support for its passage. However, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson utilized this national tragedy to urge for speedy Congressional approval of the bill.

The formal protections against housing discrimination are found in Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, also known as the Fair Housing Act (the “Act”), which prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, financing, and on-going operations of all multi-family dwellings, not just those receiving federal funds.

Importance of Incorporating Fair Housing into Staff Training

Integrating topical fair housing issues awareness or discussions into regular staff meetings, or scheduling a more comprehensive staff training (we recommend at least once a year) on a range of fair housing topics, or both, may help prevent having an avoidable fair housing violation charge filed against you. Further, keeping good records of topics covered and those present may help you in the event a fair housing complaint is filed against you. It is important that all employees be trained in Fair Housing law – this includes anyone answering phones or working on the maintenance crew all the way up to the owner. Volunteers should be included too.

You don’t have to have the intent to discriminate to run afoul of fair housing laws. In fact, most fair housing claims are filed against people with very good intentions.

Let’s be clear. Unless your organization is subject to a formal fair housing compliance agreement (officially called a “voluntary compliance agreement” or VCA), there is no such thing as a requirement for “certified” or even mandatory fair housing training for Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing providers. However, good practice in general is to integrate discussion of fair housing issues (leasing, accessibility, motorized vehicles, parking, service or companion animals, etc.) in general staff meetings. And be sure to keep records of topics covered and those present.

Places and ways to obtain training or issues awareness run the gamut – from formalized training by an instructor specifically for your organization to individual or team attendance at a local training session or state or national LeadingAge conference, calling-in on a webinar, subscription to a fair housing newsletter, or assigning a rotation of staff members to provide a review of a single topic taken from materials received at past trainings.

Suggested Sources of Fair Housing Information or Training

As April is also Fair Housing month, HUD housing providers may wish to contact their regional HUD office and/or state contract administrator to see if they have any fair housing training sessions planned. Googling “fair housing training” or “fair housing in the news” can lead to some interesting articles/topics – just be sure to consider the source. You can’t believe everything you see on the internet, but LeadingAge staff would be happy to answer any questions on the subject.

Here are just a few sources of information on frequently discussed issues among LeadingAge members:

Consider subscribing to a fair housing news magazine, check out the regional HUD newsletter for a free webinar, or check with the National Fair Housing Alliance and their recent public service announcements (PSAs) that might make for good basis for discussion.

Again, you don’t have to hire a certified trainer or invest a lot of money; just take steps to ensure you have good info on a subject and keep track of what resources you use.

Enforcement of the Fair Housing Act

Complaints can come from most any source, and may be acted on by a range of authorized organizations.

The Fair Housing Act is enforced administratively by HUD. People who believe that they have been harmed by a violation of the Act may file administrative complaints with HUD, and HUD is charged with conducting an impartial investigation of the claims.

The Act also authorizes federal lawsuits by the U.S. Department of Justice, and private lawsuits that can be filed in federal or state courts by individuals. Many state and local fair housing enforcement or equivalency agencies also have authority to investigate violations and bring enforcement actions. The general authority for all of these enforcement activities is found in the Fair Housing Act. So the enforcement authority given under the Act is quite broad.

Where violations of the law are established, remedies under the Fair Housing Act may include the award of compensatory damages to victims of discrimination, sometimes numbering in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, orders for comprehensive corrective action, and awards of punitive damages to victims or civil penalties to the government. In design and construction cases, remedies also may require retrofitting housing that has already been constructed to make it comply with the design and construction requirements of the Act.


For more on the history of the Fair Housing Act, see:

Sources: certain information in this article was excerpted from online information provided by HUD, the National Fair Housing Alliance, and Accessibility First.