We’ve talked a bit on this blog about the different classes that are protected under the Fair Housing Act ( “FHA”) —  including race, national origin, sex, color, disability and familial status. Today, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, along with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Alabama and HUD made a joint announcement underscoring the consequences that arise when a property owner appears to discriminate against actual and prospective tenants on the basis of their familial status, and specifically based on whether those tenants have children. The government entered into a settlement agreement and the court issued a consent decree with the owners and managers of Pina’s Mobile Home Park to settle charges of discrimination against families with children. In settling the action, the defendants agreed to pay up to $104,130 to the victims of their discriminatory tactics, along with a $30,000 civil penalty to be paid to the federal government.

The lawsuit arose when HUD filed a charge on behalf of a prospective tenant who attempted to rent a home at the mobile home park, and was denied because the applicant was told she had too many children to live in the park. During the owner’s initial meeting with the Complainant, the owner allegedly indicated that there were vacancies in the park, but that families with children under the age of 18 were required to pay an additional $15 per month. Once the child reached 18 years of age, that fee would increase to $30 per month. In a second meeting, the owner of the park allegedly told the Complainant that the property’s rules only permitted families with two or fewer children to reside in the mobile homes. The Complainant, however, had three children.

During HUD’s investigation, the owner stated that the park refused families with more children because “[i]f you have too many children, you have too many problems.”

As we’ve stated before: as a property owner, you cannot discriminate against any of the classes protected by the FHA and its state counterparts. Although you may have legitimate concerns that a large number of children concentrated in one unit of your property may cause “too may problems,” such as elevated noise levels, potential property damage, and an increased number of general liability issues, as a landlord, you cannot turn away a family based on their number of children if it meets the occupancy standards.

Furthermore, you cannot charge families with children additional rental fees to offset the additional repair costs that you fear may arise.  What you can and should do is determine what the applicable laws are concerning occupancy standards where your property located and ensure management follows that law.

Just A Thought.