Continuing a trend I have been reporting on this month, the Department of Justice (DOJ) has filed yet another complaint against the owner and manager of a 28 unit apartment community alleging familial status discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). This complaint, filed in Colorado, asserts that the defendants had a policy in place to generally prohibit families with children from living in the front building at the property and further that management restricted families with children to a rear building instead.
The lawsuit started with a fair housing complaint filed with HUD by a local fair housing tester group. The testers sent individuals posing as applicants to the leasing office to determine if management was complying with the FHA. It is alleged that the tests revealed that the community manager told applicants that families with children were placed in the rear building and further that families with children were not offered units in the front building. HUD issued a formal charge of discrimination and an election was made to take the case to federal court.
While I absolutely want to hear the other side before forming any opinion as to the merits, under the FHA, apartment management cannot arbitrarily limit where children live in the apartment complexes. Provided the applicant family meets a non-discriminatory resident selection criteria (which can include a credit and criminal background screen), the general rule is that the applicant should decide which specific available unit fits their needs. Management cannot direct families to a different building or even a separate floor. I have seen other instances in which management for what appears to be a benign reason – typically to have a quiet floor or building – runs into trouble (such as a discrimination complaint) because their policy unlawfully discriminates against families with children. If you have policies or are writing policies concerning occupancy (locations, limits, or standards) you might want to run them by a lawyer like me in an effort to reduce the potential that you might end up as a defendant or respondent in a fair housing case.
Just A Thought.