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HUD Charges Idaho Landlord with Familial Status Discrimination

By Elizabeth Whitman | June 4, 2019

On May 31, 2019, HUD charged the owners and manager of an Idaho rental property with violation of the familial status provisions of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). HUD alleges they refused to rent a home to a couple with seven children.

More than 3,00 HUD homes are available in Florida alone

What is Familial Status Discrimination?

When first adopted in 1968, the FHA only prohibited housing discrimination based upon race, color, religion, and national origin. In 1988, Congress expanded the FHA to cover discrimination based upon familial status.

Familial status refers to anyone who lives with a child (someone under the age of 18) as that child’s parent, guardian, or other legal custodian. Familial status also includes individuals attempting to adopt or obtain custody of a child.  Landlords also can’t refuse to rent to pregnant women.

The only exception to the prohibition on familial status discrimination is for certain senior living communities. Also, landlords can limit the number of people (but not children) who can live in a rental unit. HUD has said that two people per bedroom is a reasonable number unless local zoning laws provide otherwise.

Families May Struggle to Find Housing

Many landlords aren’t aware of FHA’s familial status provisions. In the May 31 HUD case, a couple (Complainants) and their seven children had to vacate their Caldwell, Idaho home due to flooding. Complainants found temporary housing in an apartment about 95 miles away from Caldwell while they looked for another house to rent.

Complainants saw a Craigslist ad for a four-bedroom, three-bath, home in Nampa, which was near to Caldwell. The home boasted 2600 square feet and had an additional office and a bonus room in the basement, which also could be used as bedrooms.

They called the number in the ad, and the manager (Seth) said the house was still available. Seth said that the landlord wouldn’t do a credit check.  But the landlord would require prepayment of the first month’s rent of $1,200 and a $1,000 security deposit.  Plus, the last month’s rent would have to be prepaid in six $200 installments during the first six months the tenants lived there.

This sounded good to Complainants so they drove 90 miles with two of their children to look at the house. Seth, who was the owners’ son, gave them a rental application.

Landlord Won’t Rent to Complainants Because of their Children

After Complainants started to fill out the application, Seth learned they had seven children. He told them they shouldn’t waste their time finishing the application. He said his parents had set a limit of four children for that house, which was one of four rental homes they owned.

Complainant texted Seth after leaving. She said there was a two person per bedroom limit, so with six rooms usable as bedrooms, their family of nine easily could live in the home. However, a week later, the owner rented the house to two adult women without children.

Other Types of Familial Status Discrimination

Refusing to rent to a family with children isn’t the only type of familial status discrimination.  Landlords also violate the FHA when they unreasonably limit access to community amenities, such as the swimming pool, to all minors regardless of age.

Banning items associated with children, such as balls, roller blades, and toys also can be familial status discrimination. And requiring families to live in a particular part of a building or telling a single woman she must move if she assumes custody of her teenage nephew also may be familial status discrimination.

Tips for Landlords

Although safety and zoning restrictions are legal, landlords should be sure that policies don’t unreasonably discourage families with children from living at their communities.  At a minimum, landlords should

  1. Know state and local zoning laws that restrict the number of occupants in a rental unit.
  2. If there are no state or local occupancy limits, allow at least two individuals per bedroom in each rental unit.
  3. Quote the same terms and rental unit availability to every prospective tenant.
  4. Offer the same amenities and services to all tenants.
  5. Assure that restrictions based upon resident age are reasonably required safety. For instance, it might be reasonable not to allow young children in the pool area unsupervised, but the same rule would be unreasonable if applied to teenagers.
  6. Evaluate processes to be sure that they do not have a disparate impact on families with children.
Elizabeth Whitman is an attorney and broker who has represented clients in more than $1.3 billion in real estate transactions.Elizabeth's law firm, Whitman Legal Solutions, LLC, is located in suburban Washington, DC and represents real estate owners and securities sponsors throughout the nation.
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