Dear Fair Housing Lady – Maintenance Requests

April 26, 2011 | 14 Comments

I am a Maintenance Supervisor and recently I had a discussion with a colleague at another property.  He got in trouble when he told a resident that there were several work orders in front of hers and that she would have to wait to have her problem fixed.  He said he was told this was a “Fair Housing matter” but I just don’t get it.  At our community we have a first come/first served policy and as long as we follow that with everybody, shouldn’t we be OK?

Sincerely,

Stan the Man in Maintenance

Dear Stan the Man,

First, let me say that it is really cool to get a question from someone in the maintenance part of our business.  Fair housing is not just for the “front office.”  And believe it or not, the issue you raise with your question is in fact a fair housing issue.

Apartment residents have come to expect timely and efficient responses to their work order requests.  And those expectations are appropriate – having someone take care of maintenance issues in their apartments is a significant benefit of renting that residents are in fact paying for (or at least we hope they are paying!).   Communities generally have great policies and procedures in place for their maintenance professionals to meet these expectations.  An industry standard is that if it is not an emergency (no fire – no flood – no blood!), then work orders are prioritized “first come, first served” as you have pointed out.  While this standard is generally OK, there are times however when it cannot be applied.  And that would be when fair housing comes in to play.  So, when must work orders be re-prioritized?  Not for the whiny resident (assuming that you would ever have one of those!), but most likely for the resident with disabilities, because, of course, people with disabilities are a protected class under the Fair Housing Act.  If, because of a disability, a resident needs a work order handled ASAP, pronto, on-the-double, then it needs to be addressed ASAP, pronto, on-the-double.  Here are two examples to consider:  (1) You are in a hot, steamy climate; it is July; 5 air conditioners are on the fritz.  Resident #6 calls in to report that their A/C is out, too.  You tell them that you will fix it, but they are sixth on the list.  Then they say, “But I am the resident with emphysema and the heat and humidity are making it difficult for me to breathe.”  Guess what? This is a request for a reasonable accommodation made by a resident who has just disclosed their disability to you.  And guess what else?  They are now #1 on the A/C repair list because they have a need based on disability.  (2) You have a waiting list for landlord-provided microwaves.  A new resident moves in and asks for a microwave.  You tell them they are being added to the list.  Then they tell you that their physical challenges make it difficult if not impossible to use the stove.  Guess what? This is a request for a reasonable accommodation made by a resident and once again, they move to the top of the list.   One more tidbit – “please” and “thank you” may be magic words; you don’t give your little ones cookies unless they say them.  But there are no fair housing magic words required before you give reasonable accommodation to your residents with disabilities.  They do not have to say “reasonable accommodation” (it is not like abracadabra although many letters are shared); they need only express a need based on a disability (and you do not get to inquire into the nature or extent of that disability, by the way).  So be sure that you know how to properly respond when it has to be “last come, first served” under the Fair Housing Act

Hope this clears things up a bit for you Mr. The Man.  And thanks for asking.

Sincerely,

Fair Housing Lady

Fair Housing Lady is the alter-ego of Nadeen Green, Senior Counsel with For Rent Media Solutions™.  While that makes her our attorney, she is not yours, so her information is not legal advice for you.  She would love to have your questions for future newsletter appearances (so she doesn’t have to make the questions up, which is just extra work), so send them to Nadeen.Green@ForRent.com.

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Category: General Information, Property Managers & Owners