Fair Housing Act (FHA) cases are literally filed across the country. Every so often, however, a case gets filed right in our own backyard.
Recently, HUD charged two Bucks County, Pennsylvania landlords with violating the FHA for discriminating against families with children when renting residential properties. In one instance, the landlord allegedly went so far as to terminate one tenant’s lease after she adopted a child.
In March 2007, the tenant rented a three-bedroom apartment from the landlords in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. While viewing the apartment, the tenant informed the landlord that she planned to adopt a child, to which the landlord allegedly replied that she never rented her properties to people with children. The landlord also allegedly informed the tenant that she deliberately advertised that her apartments had fewer bedrooms than they actually contained to discourage families from renting them.
In December 2007, the tenant adopted a 9-year old boy. The newly formed family lived in the apartment until approximately April 2009, when the landlord informed the tenant that her lease had been terminated. As a result of the lease termination, the family was forced to move to a new town, which deprived the child of his school, friends, and family members that he visited regularly.
The tenant approached the Fair Housing Council of Suburban Philadelphia, who suggested that the tenant send an email to the landlord inquiring into the reason for the lease termination. In response, the landlord wrote, in pertinent part: “When you rented the apartment… you were told we cannot have children living in the apartment because the property is zoned commercial and is used commercially by three companies, we have never had children living on the property because of liability.”
To the contrary, according to HUD, the property in question is zoned for residential use.
If the HUD Administrative Law Judge finds after a hearing that a violation of the FHA has occurred, the court can award damages to the family for its losses and may also order injunctive and other equitable relief. In addition, the landlord may be subject to additional fines and may be ordered to pay the tenant’s attorneys’ fees.
While I always want to learn both sides of any story, these charges are another cautionary tale that if you get into the rental housing marketplace you must know and follow the FHA. Or you can be subject to unnecessary and unneeded litigation. And lawyers like us.
Just A Thought.