Earlier this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that a property owner in Mississippi agreed to pay $27,000 to settle a lawsuit involving allegations of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act (FHA).  Specifically, DOJ’s lawsuit alleged that the defendants established and implemented an occupancy policy at ­­23 rental properties in Mississippi that differentiated between the maximum number of adults and children who could reside in each home.  As such, the DOJ claimed that the owners engaged in unlawful familial status discrimination.

Pursuant to the terms of the settlement agreement, which was approved by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, the defendants must pay $20,000 to a family that was claimed to be harmed by defendants’ practices and $7,000 to the United States as a civil monetary penalty. Furthermore, the court order prohibits the defendants from discriminating against families with children in the future, mandates a non-discriminatory occupancy policy of two persons per bedroom, and requires the defendants to receive FHA training.

The November 2011 action began after a fair housing complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  HUD investigated the allegations, issued a charge of discrimination, and sent to matter to DOJ.  The suit alleged that the defendants violated the FHA by refusing to rent a three-bedroom home to a woman with four children because she had “too many children” under the property’s occupancy policy. The complaint also claimed that by setting a lower maximum number of children than adults who could reside in each home, the defendants engaged in a pattern or practice of discrimination protected by the FHA.

This case is another timely reminder that while reasonable occupancy standards can be enforced, management cannot (in most circumstances) advertise properties as “No Children Allowed” and occupancy standards need to be designed in such a manner as to comply with federal, state, and local law.  While here the “two persons per bedroom” standard was noted in the order, depending on the size of the unit and/or living space, that guideline can change.

Just A Thought.