Earlier this week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit in federal district court alleging that the owners and managers of three apartment buildings in Washington state violated the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by refusing to rent their units to families with children. The DOJ asserts that in March 2014, one of the apartment managers told a family (which included a one year old child) that the units were “adult only” and not available to rent. The complaint further states that throughout 2014 the defendants advertised their apartments as being available only to adults. The family initially filed an administrative complaint with the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). HUD found that the complaint had merit and referred the case to DOJ.

While I express no opinion as to the facts of the case and remain mindful that there are always two sides to every story, professional apartment owners/managers must be certain not to advertise apartments as “adults only” unless your property is designed as housing for those over age 55 or age 62 (which require that they meet certain conditions). In addition to advertising issues, we need to train our leasing office employees to make certain no applicant feels as if his or her family is somehow not welcome. Indeed, many times management may feel that for safety or other legitimate reasons (such as multiple flights of stairs) it would be better for a young child to not live in a certain unit or specific area of an apartment community. Remember, however, that is not management’s choice to make. Offer all available apartments that the applicants qualify for and let the parent make the choice. To be sure, an applicant could also be a fair housing tester attempting to catch a leasing office staff member violating the law with an allegation of discrimination as in this case or that we are improperly “steering” applicants to parts of the community perceived as less desirable.

Just A Thought.