Apartment Living BlogFair Housing › Fair Housing Expert: Communicating with Hearing Impaired Renters

by Kathi Williams, co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.


Dear Fair Housing Expert,


We recently had an inquiry from someone with a hearing impairment. The person called our leasing office using a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD) and we were really caught off guard. Needless to say, we need more education and training to improve these interactions. Can you recommend some ways that we can communicate better with hearing impaired visitors over the phone and in person?


-Unprepared for hearing impaired


Dear Unprepared,


Oh yes. This could present a very awkward situation with very damaging legal consequences, so you’re right to be proactive and improve your approach for subsequent visitors/callers.


HUD funded a nationwide testing program in 2013 and 2014 to gauge the apartment industry’s ability to meet and greet prospects who are deaf or hard of hearing. Testers made in-person visits and called rental offices throughout the country using a telecommunications device for the deaf (TDD).  Many apartment communities failed to properly handle telephone calls via the TDD relay systems. Consequently, several fair housing complaints and lawsuits were filed.


That is why it’s so critical to have the training and knowledge to interact with people who cannot hear, or have difficulty communicating by traditional means. I’ve outlined some tips and best practices and things to avoid that may be helpful to apartment professionals when interacting with hearing impaired renters in person and over the phone.



Treat Hearing Impaired Renters the Same

It seems like common sense, but to properly communicate with residents and potential renters with hearing difficulties, it’s important we treat them with the same customer service and provide the same sales messages we normally use. As noted above, the complaints were filed because many of the deaf testers had a poor experience, or felt as though they were treated differently. The big difference, of course, is that we’re using technical devices or interpreters to relay the questions and answers for both parties over the phone, or in-person.


Conducting Phone/TDD Conversations with Hearing Impaired Prospects

First, what is a TDD? A person who is deaf, deaf-blind, hard-of-hearing, or speech disabled uses a TDD, also called a text telephone (TTY), to type their conversation to a Relay Operator (OPR), who then reads the typed conversation to you. The OPR then relays your spoken words by typing them back to the TTY user. Take a look at this TTY relay video to see how this device works.


Here are basic tips and expectations when using the TDD to communicate with a hearing impaired person who is interested in your apartment community.


– Be patient and take your time. The TDD calls typically take longer as they involve a relay operator who types responses from both parties into the TDD system. Do not abbreviate your answers in an effort to move the call along.


– Upon answering the phone, the relay operator will identify him/herself and the name of the caller with whom the operator is communicating via the TDD. The operator will share any initial questions posed by the caller about the apartment community.


– Greet the caller by name just as you normally do. For example, “Hi Bryan, thanks for calling Happy Village Apartments. I’m delighted to answer your questions.” Then answer caller’s questions accordingly.


– There will be a long pause while the operator types your responses into the TDD and the caller types his/her next questions.


– Thoughtfully respond to all questions and patiently await their responses as the information is processed via the TDD.


– When the operator informs you that the caller has no more questions, close the call by offering to set up an appointment, email an application, etc. Thank the caller, say goodbye and the operator will notify you when the call is finished.


In-Person Communication Tips with Hearing Impaired Visitors

When interacting with a hearing impaired prospect in your office, remember again to convey the same sales and customer service skills throughout the visit and treat them as you would a typical visitor. Below are several pointers and things to expect and avoid during the visit.


– The prospect who is deaf will identify their inability to hear and/or talk. Ask how they would like to communicate with you. You can do this on paper or tablet and let the prospect guide you.


– Acknowledge their communication preferences or channels and respond accordingly. Some hearing impaired individuals cannot hear, but can talk, while others can read lips. Several prefer to communicate via text or a tablet to convey questions and answers, while others may bring a sign language interpreter to the property. If via text message, use a texting app like Community Messenger that allows you to instantly exchange property information, files and photos from mobile or desktop.


– Ensure that your body language and facial expressions are positive and friendly as usual. Smile and convey a welcoming presence through your posture, tone of voice (if an interpreter is present), gestures and in writing if they prefer text or tablet for Q and A.


– Follow the same closing technique – offer a tour, ask them to complete a guest card, present them with marketing materials and a leasing application and give them your business card.


– Avoid presenting yourself in a stiff, awkward, and brief manner. Doing so will communicate that this prospect is not welcome at your apartment community. If your actions or statements discourage a visitor who is deaf or hard of hearing, you and your property may have to defend a housing discrimination complaint.  


The best method to prepare for calls or visits by deaf prospects is to conduct role plays with staff as a training exercise. Doing so will minimize the discomfort and mistakes made by leasing agents due to a lack of experience in meeting and greeting individuals who are deaf. 


The biggest takeaway here is to always remember that we should extend the same service experience and treatment to everyone. It’s a matter of adjusting to their communication preferences that takes the extra prep time.


As always, consult with your property’s legal representative for questions relating to renters and residents with disabilities of any kind.



Kathi Williams


Kathelene "Kathi" Williams is a co-founder and Director of The Fair Housing Institute, Inc. a full-service training and consulting firm and is a partner in the law firm of Williams & Edelstein, P.C. of Norcross, GA. Representing housing industry clients from throughout the country, Kathi provides fair housing training to associations, companies, and government entities and contributes to numerous housing industry publications. Kathi graduated from Indiana University Law School and participated in the Law Review and Board of Barristers.


  1. Myrliza Vazquez says:

    Hi i am deaf little ingles i want know find house rent i need find apt rent i no have tty try send mi eamil

Speak Your Mind



Pin It on Pinterest

Share This

Ask a Question