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NMHC/NAA Sue HUD to Block New Translation Requirements

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RISMEDIA, May 7, 2007-The National Multi Housing Council and National Apartment Association (NMHC/NAA) filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), asking a federal judge to strike down HUD's recently issued Limited English Proficiency (LEP) Guidance. HUD's Guidance, which went into effect on March 7, requires federally funded apartment owners to translate a broad array of documents in multiple languages and to provide verbal translations for those who do not read in their native language.

"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," noted Jim Arbury, NMHC/NAA's senior vice president of Government Affairs. "It effectively rewrites federal anti-discrimination law and makes it illegal to communicate only in English. Congress never intended to equate communicating in English with unlawful discrimination. Furthermore, courts all the way up to the Supreme Court have ruled that providing services in English only does not constitute discrimination."

"Not only do the LEP requirements exceed HUD's legal authority, they are also unlawfully vague and unduly burdensome," explained Arbury. "HUD's Guidance doesn't actually provide much guidance. It doesn't say which documents must be translated or when the translation requirements are triggered."

"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," explained Arbury. "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."

"It is commendable that HUD wants to improve its service to persons with limited English fluency," said Arbury. "But it is ridiculous to delegate that burden to housing providers. They are not qualified to ensure the competency of translators and interpreters. There are more than 100 different languages spoken in this country. If HUD wants to improve its service to these non- English speakers, it needs to allocate its own resources to translate these documents instead of requiring thousands of individual apartment firms and individual apartment owners to undertake these duplicative efforts across the country."

"NMHC/NAA have opposed the draft LEP rules since HUD first issued them in late 2003," said Douglas Culkin, CAE, President of NAA. "They are nothing more than an attempt by HUD to shift its responsibility for translating documents to thousands of property owners with no specialized linguistic skills."

"In addition to being illegal and vague, HUD's LEP Guidance threatens to exacerbate the nation's affordable housing shortage by imposing a completely unreasonable financial burden on the nation's affordable housing providers," noted Arbury. "Some apartment firms are already spending thousands of dollars per property, per language to translate the most fundamental documents, such as leases. HUD's Guidance requires them to translate dozens more documents, even one-time maintenance notices, in dozens of different languages. The costs of such compliance could be enormous."

"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."

According to Andrew L. Sandler, a partner with the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, which is representing NMHC/NAA in the lawsuit, "federal courts have made it clear administrative agencies, such as HUD, cannot exceed the bounds of the authority given to them by Congress, and that is what HUD has done here."

For more information, visit http://www.nmhc.org.

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