Fair Housing Month: An Interview with Anne Sadovsky
Anne Sadovsky is bullish on fair housing. The often proclaimed First Lady of the Apartment Industry doesn’t mince words when talking about her most passionate subject, the Fair Housing Act (FHA). Break the law, and you will pay, she says. Ignorance is no excuse.
The Texas native began in the industry when the Lyndon Johnson Administration signed the FHA into law during the Civil Rights Era but became most passionate about it in 1988 with amendments that protected the disabled and families. Her enthusiasm cuts to the chase and she offers a no-nonsense approach to educating property owners and management teams about the law.
With April being National Fair Housing Month, Property Management Insider caught up with Sadovsky in between training sessions at a Manhattan hotel last month to talk about how the 1968 Fair Housing Act, and its subsequent amendments, has shaped the multifamily housing industry.
Property Management Insider (PMI): How has the Fair Housing Act shaped the multifamily industry over the years?
Sadovsky: It’s had a much bigger impact since 1988 than it did the first 20 years. We sort of rocked along with it. The first protected classes, obviously, were race, color, national origin, religion, and then gender came along in the 70s, then in ’88 the family status and handicapped were added. That had the biggest impact. Prior to 1988, all of the nice apartment communities were adult. It really relegated people with kids to the boondocks or to not such nice properties. If you drove up in the parking lot, you didn’t bother getting out of the car if you had children with you. Protection of family status made a really big difference, and it was a big adjustment to the industry.
PMI: Does the FHA apply only to apartment community owners?
Sadovsky: Something that people need to understand is that the government is not picking on multifamily housing. [The FHA] applies to all housing, including all businesses that have anything to do with housing – mortgage companies, insurance companies, and realtors – anything and anyone that has to do with housing.
PMI: After checking out recent FHA complaints online, it’s evident that most are about disabilities and familial status, and not as much race or religion or other protected classes as in the past. Generally speaking, are disability and familial violations the hot button in the industry?
Sadovsky: It has very, very much become that. At one point in 1988 when I first started teaching fair housing, race was the biggest complaint filed. As the years have gone by, disability has become a bigger source of complaints. And a lot of it is about parking. It’s shocking that people file a complaint over parking. The issue about parking is that our society has aged and request reserved handicapped parking. And of course, accessibility, or some comment made about their disability also causes complaints.
PMI: What are some of the more bizarre violations that you’ve encountered?
Sadovsky: Once in a while gender comes to play. There was a case several years ago, and I’m pretty sure it was in California, where the housing provider denied occupancy to a couple and left them a message on their answering device that said, because the lady of the house had tattoos, he wasn’t going to rent to them. He said he wouldn’t mind if the man had tattoos, but he wasn’t going to rent to them because she had tattoos. And he was dumb enough to put it on their answering machine, so they really had him on that one.
PMI: Our world has changed a lot since the FHA was signed into law 44 years ago, and even after it was amended in 1988. Would you say the FHA is more important today that it was then?
Sadovsky: It’s just as important and it’s still a battle. It’s not like it was, and it’s changed. Prior to 1988, race was protected, but all protected classes flared up more in 1988. Housing kind of rocked along and did what they wanted to prior to that. In 1988 when the new protected classes were added it caused so much more attention to the fair housing laws.
PMI: What can be done to eliminate discrimination in the apartment industry?
Sadovsky: The number one way to improve its performance on our part, and that’s education. It’s shocking to me that people who own apartment communities still want to argue with me about it, and say, “It’s my property and I’ll do what I want to do with it.” It doesn’t work that way. We strive for education, and in my opinion there is enough of it out there and it is good quality education. There’s really no excuse for discriminating today. People should know better.
PMI: And people should comply.
Sadovsky: They have to comply. Their personal opinion is probably irrelevant. I had owners early on look me right in the face and say ‘I’ve owned this property for 30 years and I don’t have to do what everybody tells me to do and this is my property.’ And I’m going, “Okay, I’ll see you in court. Don’t call me to go with you, because I’m not going to take your side.”
We wouldn’t be in this situation if there weren’t people and groups who were forced to form and ask for protection, not for special rights but for equal rights. It’s very hand in hand with civil rights. Housing is a very sensitive issue, and that’s why people became protected. They wanted to have homes and be able to have the home they can afford, and they were discriminated against, and that’s what created the Fair Housing Act.
PMI: Commit the crime, do the time?
Sadovsky: Yes. It’s knowing and understanding that this is the law. It’s exactly like not driving 85 miles per hour in a 55 mile zone. It’s the law. It is some measure of punishment. Unfortunately it takes that with human beings, for some reason, to get it. The punishment [for breaking] fair housing laws is stiff. You start looking at those million-dollar settlements, and million-dollar fines; it’s expensive to make a mistake.
About Anne Sadovsky
Anne Sadovsky (CSP, CAM, CAPS, RAM) is the owner of a Dallas-based marketing, consulting and seminar firm – where she and her associates provide training, keynotes and counsel to a variety of industries, businesses and associations. Clients come from a variety of fields including housing, medical, technology, churches, hospitality, women’s groups, and education. She is the former Vice President of Marketing and Education of Lincoln Property Company and is affiliated with numerous business and professional organizations, including the National Speakers Association where she is a Certified Speaking Professional.
For more about Anne, visit her website at www.annesadovsky.com.