By Neil Fjellestad and Chris De Marco
Life is hard enough. Who needs a neighbor that comes home late and cranks up the volume on the television or stereo; has a barking dog when left alone; children that run and scream; loud parties and frequent visitors that gather for world soccer matches in the middle of the night? Now, of course neighbors can be wonderful. We all have good neighbor stories that make us smile or cause us to remember with gratitude. Sometimes it is a neighbor that becomes a hero when disaster occurs.
Here’s the thing. Neighbors are people and interactions (especially when there’s close proximity and frequency) take effort, can be messy, sometimes even frustrating and occasionally more than we can handle without help. All of this is true whether you rent or own; whether you share fences or walls; driveways or hallways, and there are no shortcuts to daily effort.
Often when a potential renter is walking the property and interviewing the manager/owner there are questions asked that can’t or shouldn’t be answered by any trained housing professional or liability concerned landlord. Here’s a sample- “Do you have young children in this community?” “Any college students live in this building?” “What can you tell me about my neighbors?”
So, what’s wrong with such questions? Here’s a short list-
• An apartment community and individual rentals are required to adhere to housing policies that do not discriminate against neighbors that belong to protected classes as dictated by federal, state and local fair housing laws.
• Most of the types of questions that are posed about neighbors are discriminating under these laws even if these questions are motivated by honest concern or innocent curiosity.
• A landlord or his/her representative that entertain such questions and/or seek to placate the potential renter with an answer to further the leasing process has participated in a discriminatory practice and has incurred potential liability under Fair Housing.
• There is a separate but equally important matter of privacy. Any information that could be shared about a neighbor has been gained due to a business relationship that maintains stiff consumer protection due to a fiduciary relationship that is implied.
• This includes a duty of confidentiality that is heightened by the protected financial credit and other personal information that a housing consumer entrusts with the rental owner/manager.
Maybe we keep in mind that having good neighbors is often the result of being a good neighbor. Let’s remember that there are no shortcuts and more effort is required than is convenient at the time.