Investors tongue-tied over language rules

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sat May 19 14:55:24 UTC 2007

Investors tongue-tied over language rules

May 18, 2007

Millions of landlords, large and small alike, are facing new government
guidelines that could force them to translate lease documents into
different languages and provide translators for tenants who speak limited

Q: I own a small rental property. I recently heard that the federal
government has adopted a new rule that requires some landlords to offer
their rental applications and other documents in the native tongue of
their prospective renters. I live in a large city, and it would cost me a
small fortune to have my lease documents translated into all the different
languages that my various applicants and tenants speak. What can I do?

A: Many landlords like you are shocked at the new Limited English
Proficiency Guidance policy, which the U.S. Department of Housing and
Urban Development quietly put into effect in March. Though the new rules
are technically only guidelines, lawyers for some apartment owners say
that failure to follow them essentially could constitute illegal
discrimination based on a renters national origin. Under the new
guidelines, nearly every property owner who receives subsidies from the
federal government would have to pay out of his or her own pocket to have
a broad range of documents translated into multiple languages. The complex
set of guidelines also requires such landlords to pay for a translator for
applicants or tenants who cannot read in their native language.

Trade groups that represent owners of rental property note that the
complex set of recommendations also appears to require the translators to
be available at a moments notice. Its expensive to have an array of
translators on call, they complain, especially considering that more than
100 languages are spoken in the United States today. Although HUD approved
the measures in an effort to broaden the housing opportunities for renters
who speak a foreign language, the provisions effectively rewrite federal
anti-discrimination law and make it illegal to communicate only in
English, said Jim Arbury, an executive for the joint National Multi
Housing Council and National Apartment Association.

The two trade associations filed a lawsuit against HUD earlier this month,
asking a federal judge to strike down the new program. The lawsuit claims
that the housing agency has overstepped its legal authority, and that the
guidelines themselves are unlawfully vague and unduly burdensome. It
likely will take several months for the judge to reach a decision, and
insiders say the losing party will almost certainly file an appeal that
will take several more months to complete. Until then, property investors
who are affected by the guidelines should contact their real estate
attorney or visit the National Multi Housing Councils Web site
( for details.

Q.: I am planning to apply for a mortgage next month. Would closing two or
three credit-card accounts that I no longer use help to raise my credit
score and improve my chances of getting loan approval?

A.: No. It might surprise you, but closing the unused accounts now
actually could temporarily lower your credit score and hurt your ability
to get a home loan at the best interest rate.

Why? Because mortgage lenders favor applicants who have shown a steady
pattern of handling their credit-card accounts and other debts. Closing
the accounts now also could hurt your chances of getting a mortgage later
because it would increase your debt-to-credit-limit ratio, a figure that
represents the percentage of available credit that you have actually used.
Lenders prefer borrowers with low debt ratios, but shutting the accounts
now would push your ratio higher.


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