Over my years defending fair housing cases I have seen more and more retaliation cases. That is, someone files a complaint alleging they were retaliated against by management because of a previously filed fair housing complaint or because they assisted with another complaint. Our Fair Housing Act (FHA) is clear that management cannot retaliate against anyone because he or she participated in a prior action.
Indeed, there are times when an initial complaint was found to be wholly without merit and then I have a harder time defending against a subsequent retaliation claim because the timing of some action against the resident looks curious. Fair housing investigators will put management through our paces when they believe retaliation has taken place.
So, how best should management work to prevent these cases? First, do not treat someone differently because he or she filed a previous complaint. We must absolutely continue to engage in the interactive process with our residents.
What should management do to prevent or minimize retaliation claims? Well, I suggest ensuring that management has a written policy in place making it clear retaliation will not be permitted. Next, we must train our employees that retaliation in housing is against the law. If we learn that someone believes he or she was retaliated against, we should conduct an inquiry (typically either through a Human Resources official or counsel) to review the facts and communicate the result of that investigation. We should also take effective remedial measures and carefully review all actions to ensure compliance with the law.