Fair Housing laws have applications towards holidays and holiday decorations. Best practices and compliance need to be solidly based on Fair Housing law and not on personal opinion.
As a professional in the housing industry, you may be faced with holiday-related items that are simply viewed as potentially offensive and/or insensitive but that are not against Fair Housing laws.
That puts you as an industry professional into a bit of a quandary. What are the best practices when it comes to holidays and holiday decorations? Let’s first see where Fair Housing law applies to holiday decorations.
Here are some common questions that come up.
We are entering the Holiday Season. Is it ok that the rental office is festively decorated?
My resident enjoys decorating their door for Christmas. Should I monitor what type of decorations they use?
Can I prohibit my residents from decorating their doors or patios at the Holidays to prevent those decorations from offending our residents who do not celebrate Christmas?
Last year a resident donated a large and obviously expensive Manger Scene to the property. Is it ok if I display it in the rental office?
“The use of secularized terms or symbols relating to religious holidays such as Santa Claus, Easter Bunny, or St.Valentine’s Day images, or phrases such as Merry Christmas, Happy Easter, or the like does not constitute a violation of the Act.”
So which protected class is being referenced? That’s right. It’s religion. What’s the guiding principle behind the Fair Housing Act? You are right again. It’s equality. Now that we can clearly see how the Fair Housing Act applies to holidays and holiday decorations, let’s look into some overall best practices.
Many of us have attended housing related educational events and typically you will find sessions that discuss “building community” as a resident retention technique. That’s really a short expression for doing whatever it takes to make sure our residents feel at home. Building community is not just an end of year initiative, it’s year round.
In the spring we may be focusing on community gardening or community charity events. In the summer it may be community cookouts or community poolside events. In the fall it may be harvest-related events or tailgating. The point is that throughout the year you are building community. Those community events are for EVERYONE in your community.
The same principle and best practice apply to the end of year holiday times. Think of EVERYONE in your community. You may have residents who come from numerous religious background. You may have residents who have no religious affiliation. Just like all of your other events throughout the year, what are you doing to continue that feeling of community?
Choice of Wording
Fair Housing Holiday Tip #2
Fair Housing applies to your wording during holiday times. This can come from your mouth or on what you have on display. Be inclusive of everyone with your vocabulary. There is a difference between using the expression ‘Happy Holidays’ versus the expression ‘Merry Christmas’. Although the law does not prohibit the use of certain expressions, the principle is to promote equality and build a sense of community. Be beyond the law.
Common Areas – Community Events
Fair Housing Holiday Tip #3
Your facility may have common areas that are used by your residents. Some communities have clubhouses, game rooms, sitting areas etc. Whatever your policies are regarding usage of these areas, be sure that they are all neutral. If your policies allow for religious activities, make sure your policy covers all religions.
If you are hosting community events during the holidays, give careful consideration to the planning, decor, attendees, theme etc. This is something of a much bigger scope than how your residents are using your common areas. Your community events are endorsed by YOU as the community and if applicable, your property management company. It’s your corporate social responsibility to get this right! Every detail should be vetted through the lenses of equality to make sure that it is an occasion where everyone feels welcome.
Holiday Decorations – Best Practices
Fair Housing Holiday Tip #4
Holiday decorations for the inside of a resident’s home should really be none of anyone’s business unless they are breaking a community policy. For example, you may have a policy against setting up 20-foot trees inside an apartment that has only 10-foot ceilings. Other than that it’s really a decorative choice of the resident that does need to be micromanaged.
Document Resident Complaints
Fair Housing Holiday Tip #5
No matter what you do and how careful you are you will always have people who will complain. Make sure you address this with your team. Your team needs to understand how Fair Housing laws could apply and why. Address all complaints of religious discrimination. This includes complaints amongst neighbors. Document – document – document everything. And remember to…document.
Fair Housing Holiday Tips…Celebrate Diversity
Fair Housing applies to any and all holiday time periods. On a year-round basis, it is a must that housing professionals make their communities welcoming. Don’t just follow the law. Understand the Fair Housing Act and its intent. Make sure your community eats, lives, and breathes equality. Have solid policies in place. By following these Fair Housing holiday guidelines and tips you will make it easier for you, your team, and your residents to have a happy and festive time.
Please keep in mind that our comments are recommendations and not legal advice. It is always good to confer with legal counsel.