It’s a beautiful apartment and it’s perfect for you. It’s close to all the places you go and it fits just fine within your budget. So you fill out the application and start to tell your friends about your great new home.
Then the landlord calls to tell you that your Northwest Milwaukee apartment application has been declined.
Let’s face it, hearing that news would never be a happy experience, but what if you believe that something is off? What if you believe that you have been discriminated against?
Last time we had a detailed discussion about the protections afforded under the Federal Housing Act and the State of Wisconsin fair housing laws. You can review those protections by clicking here.
So we will begin by assuming that you believe you are a member of a protected class and you believe that your rights under the law have been violated. What should you do now?
1. Try to remain calm if you can. Being declined for any reason is a form of rejection and that’s always uncomfortable. However, being discriminated against is another thing altogether. Make no mistake, you have every right to be angry. But the question would be, is that anger going to help you solve this problem? Many people when confronted by angry accusations become defensive or angry themselves. Remember, you want to position yourself as the reasonable, responsible person who has been treated unfairly. Reasonable responsible people may be assertive and direct, but they are calm.
2. Leave room to be wrong. Were you really discriminated against or was there a misunderstanding? I have seen applications declined for insufficient income when the “7” looked like a “1.” Sometimes credit reporting gets confused and sometimes people with common names are mistaken for others with the same name and a checkered past. My name is not all that common, but I can tell you there is another David J. Decker that’s out there causing mayhem, but it’s not me! In short, when we were discussing remaining calm, now you know why. One of the reasons is that there may be a simple misunderstanding that may be easily cleared up – if everyone remains calm.
3. Could it be that another, better-qualified applicant got the housing unit instead of you?
4. Is there something in your credit file that you were not aware of that is causing you to be declined? Could there be a clerical error or an identity theft problem unknown to you? If you have been turned down due to a credit issue, you have a right to receive a copy of your credit report for free from one of the credit reporting agencies like Trans Union or Experian.
5. Has the landlord acted out of ignorance? Make no mistake about it, ignorance is no defense. You have every right to make your case and let the law take its course. But if your goal was to get the housing unit, you may want to try to educate the property owner to his error.
There are plenty of bad people in the world and there are bad landlords too. If that is what you have, pointing out errors probably will not gain you anything. However, in my experience, most property owners are well meaning, but sometimes ignorant. Since I have taught fair housing seminars, I can tell you that there are landlords that believe they don’t need to develop rental criteria, “they can tell just by looking at ’em.” In my opinion, landlords like this usually aren’t evil, but they are almost certainly going to run afoul of fair housing laws at some point out of ignorance.