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Landlord could be penalized for retaliation in fair housing case

Question: I am a landlord and I recently had a resident at one of my buildings accuse me of discriminating against these tenants for having children.

It is true that I have given warnings to this family about the destruction that their children have caused to my property, but that is only because it was the third time the children deliberately kicked and broke the sprinklers.

Would it be OK to tell the other residents not to cooperate with the complaining resident since I am completely innocent and just want to defend myself?

Answer: This is a great question, and a situation that can cause a lot of trouble for a housing provider if the fair housing laws are not fully understood.

The safest answer to your question is that you should not discourage people from participating in a housing discrimination investigation, even if you believe you are innocent of the claim against you.

Why? This behavior can be viewed as retaliation for someone trying to exercise their fair housing rights.

Many housing providers are under the false impression that retaliation includes only raising the rent or evicting someone because they filed a complaint about their housing provider. This is not true.

Retaliation can also include other types of behavior such as discouraging neighbors from cooperating with a fair housing investigation, making threats of any kind to the complaining tenant or other people you believe are helping the tenant, or offering some sort of benefit or deal to other tenants in the complex if they help you in defending against the complaint.

A claim of retaliation can be made not only by the tenant who initially made the complaint, but also by tenants who are threatened, intimidated or coerced in some way. Some housing providers are under the impression that if the discrimination claim is false and they are innocent, they cannot be guilty of retaliation. This is not true.

Even if a resident falsely accuses a housing provider of discrimination, the housing provider can still be found liable for retaliating against a resident.

For example, in your case, if there is a housing discrimination investigation and it is found that you are not discriminating against families with children, but you told all of the residents that they should not cooperate with the investigation, you could still be penalized for retaliation.

Please note that every case is unique to the facts of that particular situation. For more information about retaliation and the fair housing laws, contact a local fair housing or mediation program, or Project Sentinel at (888) 324-7468, or visit http://www.housing.org.

Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

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