A couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) charged a couple from Georgia with familial status discrimination pursuant to the Fair Housing Act (FHA). HUD asserts that the couple, who own an apartment building, refused to rent to and made discriminatory statements about families with children.

The case started when a local fair housing group and a mother of two kids filed complaints alleging that the property owners had a policy unlawfully limiting the number of children that could reside in their apartments.  Specifically, HUD claims that the Respondents left a message on their voice mail announcing an occupancy policy to potential renters which permitted only one child in a two-bedroom unit and two children in a three-bedroom unit.

To be sure, occupancy standards are not always one size fits all. Indeed, the 1992 HUD guidance suggesting that a policy of two heartbeats per bedroom was typically reasonable has been superseded such that occupancy standards in 2019 are better evaluated with respect to the number of rooms in the unit generally and size of the bedrooms specifically as opposed to a simple formula. Additionally, some jurisdictions have amended their laws to mandate that 2+1 (or 3) people per bedroom can be appropriate.

As I always make clear, just because HUD has filed a complaint does not mean the allegations are true. But my best advice is not to have a policy on a recorded message which appears to be discriminatory on its face (even if you believe it is for safety or another non-discriminatory purpose). It will be a rare two bedroom apartment home in which only one child is appropriate. Same with a three bedroom apartment in which only two children can live. If you have questions about your occupancy standards and/or the size of your units, it is better to speak with a lawyer like me for advice.

Just A Thought.