In separate releases issued earlier today, the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) announced that it settled two housing discrimination matters: one from California for $6,000 and one from Hawaii for $8,000. In the California case, the complainants claimed that housing providers declined to offer them a two bedroom unit because they have three children. In the Hawaii matter, the complainants asserted they were discriminated against on the basis of disability by failing to grant a reasonable accommodation request.

The old general rule involving occupancy standards (dating from at least 1992 pursuant to a HUD document referred to as the Keating Memorandum), was that an occupancy standard of “two heartbeats” per bedroom was presumptively reasonable. As such, under the prior standard, management could theoretically deny a request for a two bedroom unit from a family of five (two adults and three children). Now, over the past couple of decades, occupancy standards have loosened a bit and in many places across the country, a “two plus one” (or three) persons per bedroom can be considered appropriate. Other jurisdictions take a more nebulous approach and choose to look at the size of the total apartment (including, for example, a den or family room) to determine if it is a good fit for four, five (or more) people. To be sure, while occupancy standards have changed over time – it remains the law that for health and safety reasons, a family of twelve cannot fit in a small two bedroom apartment home. In the California case, while the family was permitted to qualify for the two bedroom unit, the family was also placed at the top of the waiting list for a three bedroom unit.

In the documents describing the Hawaii case, HUD provided no facts, other than a statement that “small accommodations can have a significant impact on the ability of persons with disabilities to fully utilize and enjoy their homes.” The agreement also required fair housing training and the adoption of non-discrimination policies.

From my desk, these cases seem unremarkable, particularly given the relatively low dollar ($8,000 and $6,000) settlement amounts. I am curious as to why HUD issued press releases.

Just A Thought.