AVOID FAMILIAL DISCRIMINATION
Managers at a California condo must pay tenants $800K for prohibiting children from playing outside.
Excluding children or pregnant women from a property or from any area that other residents are allowed to use within the property could be considered discrimination—even if the intent of the exclusion is to protect them. The cases below exemplify the high cost that may be paid when these groups are prohibited.
Be careful with rules that apply only to children
A housing nonprofit recently brought a class action lawsuit pro bono against a condominium complex in California for prohibiting children from running or playing within the complex gates. The nonprofit recovered $800,000 from the condo managers. Limiting children’s use of any common areas or amenities could put you at risk of discrimination charges. This applies to policies, postings and the words and actions of property employees.
Take extreme caution when including special provisions/addenda to lease agreements
A Massachusetts landlord included an addendum to lease agreements stating that the property did not have updated lead certificates and prohibiting children under six and pregnant women from residing on the premises. Citing the lack of lead certification, the landlord refused to rent to a family because they had one small child and the wife was pregnant with another. A jury awarded $8,500 in damages to the family and imposed a $35,000 civil penalty on the landlords for the pattern and practice of discrimination. This particular addendum’s prohibition is a clear violation of the FHA.
When the aggrieved family above led a complaint with the state, the landlord retaliated by suing the couple for $1 million in damages. Retaliation is unlawful conduct under the FHA. Landlords who retaliate against individuals who choose to exercise their fair housing rights should expect costly civil penalties in return, which is exactly what these landlords got.
Adhere to state law
In the case above, the prohibition against children and pregnant women was an attempt on the part of the landlords to circumvent Massachusetts lead paint laws, which require landlords to remove or cover lead paint hazards in homes where any children under six live. It is never a good idea to try to pass the burden for a property’s legal compliance onto the tenant. This case, however, was a blatant violation of state law, which, in addition to requiring lead paint remediation, specifically prohibits refusing to rent to families with children because the premises may contain lead.
The good thing is the FHA is very clear on this point: there is no allowable reason to prohibit families with children or pregnant women from renting or from enjoying common areas. If you think you have an exception, you should at a minimum consult legal counsel or run the risk of steep penalties.
You can read more about the latest cases affecting housing law in Vantage Pro, our monthly compliance reporting for Platinum Vision clients.