Two associations representing owners of multi-family properties have brought suit again the Department of Housing and Urban Development over new regulations that require them to provide written materials and services to tenants and potential tenants for whom English is not their primary language.

The National Multi Housing Council (NMHC) and National Apartment Association (NAA) filed suit in federal court against HUD asking that the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Guidance which went into effect in March be struck down. These rules require federally funded apartment owners to translate numerous documents into multiple languages and to provide verbal translation services for those who cannot read the documents when translated.

Jim Arbury, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for both NMHC and NAA said in a press release, "Although we share HUD's goal of expanding access to housing programs for people with LEP, HUD has exceeded its statutory authority and its Guidance is clearly illegal. It effectively rewrites federal anti-discrimination law and makes it illegal to communicate only in English. ...courts all the way up to the Supreme Court have ruled that providing services in English only does not constitute discrimination."

Not only do these requirements exceed HUD's authority Arbury said, "They are also unlawfully vague and unduly burdensome. He stated that the guidance does not specify the documents that must be translated or the level of assistance that must be provided."

"To comply, firms are effectively forced to identify all the languages likely to be spoken by residents and potential residents and then to maintain a fleet of translators to translate documents into those languages. The Guidance even goes so far as to require firms to make translators available for oral translations at a moment's notice, no matter how few persons with LEP the firm is serving."

Arbury suggested that, rather than putting the burden on apartment owners, HUD should use its own resources to translate the necessary documents into the more than 100 different languages spoken in the U.S. rather than requiring thousands of individual apartment firms and individual apartment owners to duplicate that activity across the country.

"Every dollar spent on this misguided policy is a dollar that could be spent serving needy families and maintaining their properties," said Arbury. "We are calling on HUD to withdraw its Guidance, to act proactively to translate important rental documents and to create a hotline to handle inquiries from LEP persons."