If you are in the industry long enough, you will inevitably experience a maintenance request that requires the assistance of a 3rd party vendor. Whether it is a plumbing, HVAC, restoration, or roofing issue, in-house maintenance can’t be expected to specialize in every type of repair or have all of the equipment necessary to complete the fixes. Now, it’s time to call in the experts.
So, you contact your trusted vendor partner, receive an estimate, schedule an appointment a few weeks out, and let the resident know the details. Assuming this is a non-emergency issue, everything is fine for now. However, let us suppose that there is a delay from the vendor and the vendor has to push the appointment. For example, let’s say you need a small roofing repair and the state gets hit with several bad hail storms, so your nonemergency request gets put on the back burner while the roofing company has all hands-on-deck working 12 hours per day 7 days a week solving the crises at hand. This is a totally understandable predicament, but days are flying by and your resident is getting less and less patient.
The resident complains once or twice more over the next 2 months that the water stain in the corner of their ceiling is growing. You inform them that you understand and share their frustration and that it will be fixed as soon as the vendor is available, but they storm off, unsatisfied with the answer. Then 2 weeks later the tenant files a Fair Housing Discrimination Complaint against you.
“What happened!? This can’t possibly be seriously considered as anything other than frivolous.” You think to yourself. “We have an appointment in the books, we’re doing all we can.” In reality, it takes almost no evidence for a tenant to file a Fair Housing Discrimination Complaint.
The resident is claiming that because of their race or religion, you have intentionally not responded to their maintenance request in a timely manner. “But we have!” you think. Your maintenance tech looked at the issue, you contacted your vendor partner, and have an appointment on record to get the repair completed all within the week of the request. Unfortunately, over three months have passed since the original appointment was made and postponed and no resolution has taken place. A Judge may easily find in favor of the resident if this is all of the evidence presented. However, there are steps you can take to protect yourself against discrimination allegations.
First, when the appointment was pushed from its original date, you should have immediately contacted other roofing vendors to get quotes and check their availability. In the best-case scenario, you find a highly-recommended vendor who is available to fix the issue relatively quickly and the entire mess is resolved. On the other hand, if you call several other roofing companies and they all say the same thing, “we’re slammed with all of these hail damage requests, it’s going to be at least a month and a half before we can get to your issue,” you have evidence to support your claim that there was nothing that you could have done to repair the roof more quickly. Unfortunately, this probably won’t stop the resident from filing the Fair Housing complaint, but it will give us arguments for your defense.
Second, if you know it is going to take an unusually long time to respond to a request, follow up with the resident on the progress. Even if there is no news, it is important to let the resident know that you haven’t forgotten about the problem and you are addressing it as quickly as possible. If you wait for the resident to approach you, they have already reached the point that waiting for the repair has become unacceptable to them. A small reminder every week or two lends a lot of patience to the resident because they feel like you are on the same side throughout this process. In the roof leak/ceiling water stain situation, it would be an excellent idea to send a maintenance tech to check on the stain and drain any pooling water to avoid a larger catastrophe.
If you send a maintenance technician twice per month to check on the water stain and make diligent efforts to contain the damage while waiting for the vendor to make the repairs you should record these visits. It proves that you did not ignore the problem and is great evidence when defending against a discrimination complaint.
Finally, if you suspect the resident may file a Fair Housing discrimination complaint or other lawsuit, such as a breach Warranty of Habitability, you may want to sit down with the resident to determine alternative courses of action other than insisting on just waiting for the repair to be made. Consider the likelihood of them filing the complaint or lawsuit. If you think it is a high chance or if they have threatened to do so, it may be the better business decision to offer to let them out of their lease or move them into another unit. Speak with one of the THS attorneys about your specific situation sooner than later. But even if you have strong evidence to defend your case, it may be more economical to avoid the whole situation and release the resident from their lease than to win the case.
Some repairs are going to take longer than residents find acceptable and it may be no fault of yours or your vendors’. As long as you can prove that you tried your best to resolve the request in a timely fashion and made diligent efforts to maintain the problem until a permanent repair could be made, you will have a strong case to defend against a Fair Housing complaint. However, a little conversation goes a long way and reaching a compromise before the situation escalates can save a lot of time and money before you have to have one of our attorneys sit down in mediation to settle on that same compromise.