Last week the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that it had resolved another Fair Housing Act (FHA) case, this time recovering $75,000 to settle a familial status discrimination complaint. The agreement to conclude the case remains pending before a federal district court judge in Colorado, but is expected to be approved.
The complaint asserted that the owners and manager of an apartment community implemented a policy which generally excluded families with children from living in what was referred to as the front building at the property and restricted families to the rear building.
The inquiry began when fair housing testers (individuals who posed as potential renters) visited the property and alleged they were told that families with children were typically placed in the rear building and were precluded from seeing available units in the front building. If true, this is a practice called “steering,” which is unlawful under the FHA.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement, the defendants will pay a total of $75,000. $25,000 which will establish a settlement fund to compensate alleged victims of discrimination, $45,000 in damages to the fair housing testing group as well as a $5,000 civil penalty to the United States. As is common in cases like this, the defendants are prohibited in engaging in further discrimination against families with children, requires them to adopt a nondiscrimination policy, receive FHA training, and conduct various monitoring/reporting for the next three years.
The takeaway: DOJ and local fair housing groups are looking to bring FHA cases. Don’t let your property turn into one of the test cases. Train your employees to follow the law. Even if you think children are better served by not being on a specific floor or in a designated building for what you may believe is a benign or safety related reason – that is not management’s decision to make. Make available to every applicant every open unit that he, she, or they qualifies to rent.
Just A Thought.