“Familial status” continues to be a protected class which drives fair housing litigation. Earlier this month, a fair housing advocacy group was successful in an appeal (which permits them a new trial) in a lawsuit against an Ohio company that advertised an apartment as “a great bachelor pad” for men looking to “hook up.” The U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed with the jury instructions given by the judge at the first trial and ordered a second proceeding. In our fair housing world, “familial status” means that housing providers cannot discriminate against families with children, women who are pregnant, or people seeking to adopt. The plaintiff alleged that the ad noting “a great bachelor pad” reflected discrimination against women and families. In so doing, the complaint alleged management violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Defending against the allegations, management contended that the ad did not discriminate against anyone and did not state a preference. The housing provider noted that the apartment was ideal for a single man, but that management would certainly welcome women and/or families. Indeed, at an August 2011 trial, the jury found that the online listing which read “Our one-bedroom apartments are a great bachelor pad for any single man looking to hook up” did not violate federal law. The plaintiff’s appealed and the appellate panel has now granted their request for a new trial.
What does this case mean to our professional apartment management community? First, fair housing advocacy groups are out there monitoring our ads and looking to bring cases. Second, regardless of who is ultimately proven correct here concerning application of the FHA, that ad has been exceptionally expensive. You will not be surprised that I typically advise my clients to avoid any such language that could be ambiguous and read in such a manner as to imply a prohibited preference.
Just A Thought.