Should You Ask Prospects for Photo IDs?
Requesting photo identification from prospects before taking them to tour a vacant unit is a sound practice for safeguarding your staff, say security consultants. At the same time, fair housing experts caution that, unless you request photo identification from every prospect—not just those who look suspicious or dangerous—you could be guilty of discrimination.
It's common sense to err on the side of caution so leasing staff don't become crime victims. There have been cases where individuals pose as housing prospects and then attack a staff member when they are alone in a vacant unit. In the current era of identity theft, it seems to be even more important to know with whom you are dealing. “It's definitely a safety issue,” says attorney and fair housing specialist Kathelene Williams. “You want to be sure these individuals are who they say they are. A picture ID is a reasonable request.”
Williams says she often hears about safety concerns among leasing staff, many of whom are women. They are especially concerned about being asked to show a vacant unit after normal business hours, when they may be the only staff on duty.
But there are reasonable ways to balance safety and fairness. Here are six tips to address safety concerns while avoiding discrimination claims.
Request Photo ID from All Prospects
Asking every single prospect is the best way to avoid any charge of discrimination, Williams notes. “You can't demand ID from the big burly guy whose race you are suspicious of and then not ask the sweet elderly white woman,” she points out. “That's clearly discrimination.”
This is a point that must be made firmly with leasing staff. They may have prejudices or fears based on a personal experience or on the prospect's appearance, accent, dress, or race that would lead them to ask for photo identification selectively. If they pick and choose, you could be held liable for their actions.
Don't Insist on Driver's License
“You can't insist that the identification be in the form of a driver's license, because not everyone drives,” Williams says. “But in this day and age, everyone has some form of photo ID.”
There are many forms of official photo identification—many government-issued—that you can consider reliable to provide you with the information to confirm a prospect's identity. In addition to a driver's license, these include:
- State identification card;
- U.S. military identification;
- Native American tribal document;
- U.S. passport or unexpired foreign passport;
- Alien registration receipt card;
- Temporary resident card;
- Employment authorization card;
- Refugee travel documents;
- Nonimmigrant visa, such as a student or visitor's visa; or
- Border crossing card, for residents of Canada or Mexico.
Many employers provide photo ID badges; you should determine whether you wish to consider such identification reliable and sufficient for your purposes.
Set Policy for Handling IDs
This is another area where you must be consistent, Williams advises. “Some managers prefer to take the driver's license or other photo ID and place it in a desk drawer while the prospect tours the unit and then return it when the person is ready to leave,” she says. “Others may make a photocopy, then put the original in the desk and the copy in a file. I know some who make a copy, give the original back to the prospect, and then return the copy to the prospect as well, at the end of his visit.”
Williams and other fair housing attorneys urge caution if you decide to copy photo IDs to keep on file. You want to avoid the appearance that you are communicating—even in a subtle way—the prospect's race or national origin to the manager who accepts or rejects housing applicants. As Williams notes, federally funded housing documents require information about race, but you want to avoid the appearance of unfair practices in the early stages of application.
Instead of photocopying a prospect's identification, you can direct your staff to copy relevant information from the ID, such as the driver's license number and state. You can record the information on a “guest” card; be sure to advise the prospect that you are copying down the information.
Consider Policy of No Tours After Hours
Williams suggests that sites where staff members are concerned about taking a prospect on a tour after regular business hours set tour hours as part of their policy. “There have been attacks on-site,” Williams says. “It's not an irrational fear.”
Post Policy for All to See
It's a good idea to make your policy about tours public by posting it in your leasing office. In addition, train leasing staff to share the policy with any prospect who calls to make an appointment.
Be sure your posting covers the requirement for photo identification and any restrictions on hours when you will and will not give tours. Williams suggests language such as the following:
It is our policy that prior to touring a vacant unit at our site, all prospects are required to produce a driver's license or other acceptable photo identification. Our tour hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thank you for your cooperation.
If someone walks in after hours and asks to see a unit, your staff can point to the posted policy. With all prospects, be welcoming and don't make assumptions. Again, the policy should be followed consistently, Williams notes.
“Take the prospect's name, give him a brochure and ask him to schedule an appointment during your normal business hours,” she says. “You can tell him that the policy is for security reasons, which lends it even more legitimacy. It says to the prospects that you take security seriously.”
Make sure your staff understands why you have the policy you do. Williams says it helps with consistent enforcement when people know why they are asked to follow a policy. If they understand that the policy was established for safety reasons, they can in turn explain that to prospects.
The bottom line is staff safety, Williams believes. “Safety comes before fair housing,” she says. “Sites need to be sure they are protecting their employees.”
PRACTICAL POINTER: Some site managers or leasing staff may turn to the Internet to check out a prospect on social networking or other sites. If that's something you do or are thinking about doing, you have to be consistent, Williams advises. “If you look up one prospect, you have to look up everyone,” she says. “Apply the practice consistently to avoid any hint of discrimination.”
Kathelene Williams: Law Firm of Williams & Edelstein, P.C., 7742 Spalding Dr., Ste. 478, Norcross, GA 30092; (770) 840-8483; President, Fair Housing Institute (www.fairhouse.net); Kathi@fairhouse.net.
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