fhco_logoFollowing is a guest post by Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist for the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.

The topic of fair housing testing strikes fear and incites anger in many within the housing industry—independent landlords and professional property managers, sales brokers, mortgage lenders, homeowners’ associations, and other housing providers. Most are very unclear what testing is, and what it isn’t.

First, let me say that as a former REALTOR®, I am well aware that the housing industry is heavily regulated. Legal issues and accompanying regulatory bodies range from licensing law to fair housing law. The Fair Housing Council of Oregon (FHCO) is not the only organization that performs testing. Those familiar with the sales world, you might recall when the Oregon Real Estate Agency (OREA) conducted audit tests a few years ago to verify that agents were explaining the then-new Agency Disclosure Pamphlet and presenting it for signature upon “first substantive contact” with a prospective client. This is one more example of testing in the industry.

What is Fair Housing Testing?
Who does it? What are the implications for you in your daily practice?

FHCO is not an enforcement agency. We do however conduct enforcement-related activities such as testing or filing a complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) or another regulatory governmental agency (such as Oregon’s Bureau of Labor and Industries), either on our own behalf or in assisting a housing consumer who feels a fair housing violation has been committed against them. We also sometimes file lawsuits with private attorneys, especially if testing evidence supports an allegation of a fair housing violation. Each year we also assist hundreds of housing providers and consumers in resolving fair housing problems in an informal manner, to the satisfaction of both parties. A good deal of our day-to-day work focuses on education and outreach to both housing consumers and housing providers about their rights and responsibilities under federal, state, and local fair housing laws (see a list of FHCO classes).

If someone contacts our office with what appears may be a fair housing allegation, we take the information and determine if it is a testable situation. Testing is used to identify ordinary business practices (of a company, an individual, etc) and these practices are usually confirmed with a series of tests. We may use testers who are not simply posing as a housing consumer, but someone who may follow a transaction through to the end and purchase a home, obtain a loan, enter into a lease agreement, etc. These folks aren’t just testers, they’re bonafide prospects currently in the market to buy/lend/lease.

We’d much rather eradicate illegal discrimination through education and making ourselves available for your questions than to “catch” you doing something wrong. Consider us a resource. Did you know that we provide testing as a fee-for-service? Organizations and firms may contract with us to see how staff or members are doing in complying with fair housing laws—the results of these tests are confidential under the terms of the contract.

We also offer a wealth of information available for housing providers on our website. A few pages likely to be of interest:
Housing Provider Information
Public Service Videos
Sample Forms
Translated Materials

Please consider supporting the work we do by joining FHCO today. Support from the housing industry is particularly important as we stand together to ensure housing for all in the spirit of fair housing laws.