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Fair Housing and “Limited English Proficiency”

The latest Fair Housing rumor sweeping the Internet relates to something called “Limited English Proficiency” or “LEP” for short. If you believe the emails and social media posts, a landlord who does not have all forms translated, at least into Spanish, can be hit with a Fair Housing complaint and an easy $16,000 PER VIOLATION penalty. Fearmongers offer to translate all of your documents, for a fee, of course!

Nonsense. Con artists are at work!!!!

Here is the truth.

  • You cannot blatantly discriminate, such as advertising “must speak English.”
  • Because the landlord/tenant relationship is relatively simple, and largely rests on written documents with very little on-going communication, landlords who routinely fail to return phone calls or even attempt communication with people who are not fluent will fall under HUD suspicion for unfair practices. In other words, you can’t use “I’m sorry I don’t understand you” as a blanket excuse to anyone who is not fluent in English. At a minimum, learn how to say the following:
    • English: “I am sorry. I do not understand. I need a translator.”
    • Spanish: “Lo siento. No entiendo. Necesito un traductor.”
    • www.translate.google.com will tell you how it is pronounced.
  • Requiring someone fluent in English to co-sign or guaranty the lease is a Fair Housing violation if the tenant otherwise meets credit and background requirements.
  • You do not have to translate documents, but if you have already done so, they must be made available to people who speak that language.
  • Allowing an interpreter of the tenant’s choice to be present or conferenced-in to phone calls is reasonable and should be allowed if requested.
  • Allowing a prospect the opportunity to take documents home for translation is a reasonable request and should be allowed.
  • If the market place for your properties has a high percentage of people who speak only one language that is not English, your failure to translate documents COULD be a violation if, statistically, it results in a higher number of rental denials than for people who do speak English. This is highly unlikely to be the case in Alabama.

Would you like more information about Fair Housing, the exemptions, the REAL traps, and debunking the fake problems such as Limited English Proficiency? Sign up for one of our upcoming Fair Housing classes at the link below. The live class earns 3 hours of Alabama Real Estate CE, but is also open to the public.

Fair Housing Classes or Videos
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Sex Offenders

You can deny housing to sex offenders on the Registry, and not violate the Fair Housing laws, as long as you turn down ALL sex offenders on the Registry. If you are using the Registry as an excuse to turn down somebody who is Hispanic, for example, but White offenders are allowed housing, then you will be in trouble. My authority for this statement comes from the United States Department of Justice information page regarding Fair Housing Act at https://www.justice.gov/crt/fair-housing-act-1

You can also deny housing to anyone who has a criminal conviction for manufacture or distribution of illegal drugs, no matter when the conviction occurred. Same thing as the sex offenders–it can’t be an excuse to turn down some people and rent to others with the same history. My authority for this statement comes from 42 U.S.C. ยง3607(b)(4); See, also Office of General Counsel Guidance on Application of Fair Housing Act Standards to the Use of Criminal Records by Providers of Housing and Real Estate-Related Activities, April 4, 2016, at pg 8.

Aside from that, you are not allowed to have a blanket prohibition against people with convictions within a certain time frame. HUD says you must take into account the type of crime, the age of the person at the time it was committed, how much time has passed, and rehabilitation evidence in the meantime. Wish I could be less vague, but HUD hasn’t provided any more guidance than that. My advice-continue to turn down people convicted of violent crimes or arson, or multiple property crimes such as theft, and don’t worry about drug use offenses more than a year old.