Children & Fair Housing

This is a guest post by Kate Agnelli. Kate is a Coordinator of Systemic Investigations and Enforcement at Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME).  She earned her M.S.W. from Virginia Commonwealth University and is a graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill.  Her background includes work in corrections and in the Virginia legislature, as well as with homeless youth in the Raleigh/Durham area.

Having children should not present an additional challenge to finding adequate housing.  The U.S. government agrees, and, in 1988, the federal Fair Housing Act was amended to include familial status as an additional protected classes.  The Act, as amended, offers protection from housing discrimination based on “familial status,” or the presence of children under the age of 18 in the household.  Familial status protections also extend to women who are pregnant, and to people seeking custody of a child through guardianship or adoption.

While we continue to see blatant cases of housing discrimination based on familial status —i.e., an advertisement that explicitly states “no kids,” or a landlord stating she’d prefer to rent to a family without kids—discrimination is also often contained in what we call the applying of “terms and conditions” of leases and community rules.

Below are the most comment violations of unlawful housing discrimination based on familial status :

  • Charging a higher rent or security deposit for families with children.  Landlords may try to justify a higher rent or security deposit from a family with two  young boys because they are certain the boys will do more damage than a family without children would, but this is a form of housing discrimination.  Rent and security deposits must be the same for everyone and not charged on a per person basis  Whether someone has children is not a good indicator of whether damage will occur.  It is best to rely upon landlord references to determine if a resident(s) can meet lease requirements or has a history of violations.  If damage is done, violations can be issued and costs sought as long as such costs are sought for all tenants who violate the lease in this manner regardless of the presence of children.
  • Requiring families with children on ground floors of multi-family units.  This is an unlawful practice known as “steering.”  Families with children should have the same housing options as families without children when it comes to where in an apartment complex they live, and this right is guaranteed  through fair housing laws.  If noise violations occur, they can be enforced like they would be for any tenant who violates such rules.
  • Requiring that there be separate bedrooms for children of opposite genders.  A landlord may not place restrictions regarding opposite-gender children sharing bedrooms, or about parents and children sharing bedrooms.  Of course, a landlord can set reasonable occupancy standards for a unit (two people per bedroom is typically considered reasonable), but he or she is not allowed input on who sleeps in which bedrooms.  This is a decision for the parent or legal guardian to determine.
  • Raising the rent when another child joins the household.  A landlord can’t base the rent on how many children a tenant has.  It is a better policy to charge per bedroom assuming a maximum household occupancy for the unit (typically two people per bedroom is reasonable).  Charging per child unfairly impacts families with children because such households are typically larger.
  • Making rules about curfews and the use of community facilities that limit children’s enjoyment.  Landlords and homeowners’ associations may make rules governing the conduct of their residents but they cannot require that rules only apply to children.    This means that any curfews or restrictions on the use of community facilities must be enforced for adults and children alike.  If children are singled out for the enforcement of such rules only, this is likely a violation of fair housing laws.

This last example corresponds to a case that played out right here in Virginia in 2009.

A Virginian family moved into a condominium complex in Chesapeake and after a series of rules changes stemming from resident complaints about playing in common areas, residents were no longer allowed to throw balls, Frisbees or other toys in common areas.

The rule itself did not single out children, but between 2008 and 2009, the only residents for whom the rule was enforced were families with children.  At least six different families were fined $50 on several occasions because their children alleged to have violated the rule limiting “sports activity”.  This family was fined on three different occasions, and finally filed a fair housing complaint when they were fined $50 because their child was playing football outside.  After investigation of the allegations, a determination was issued by the Virginia Fair Housing Board that families with children had been discriminated against in violation of fair housing laws.

When we think about how important a safe living space and the ability to exercise and play are for adults and children, it becomes clear why ensuring housing options for families with children is so important.  Where a child grows up affects his or her future in all manner of ways, and that future should not be compromised because a child’s family has a difficult time finding a home simply because there are children in the household.

This information is not intended to be legal advice.  For legal advice, please consult an attorney.

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9 thoughts on “Children & Fair Housing

  1. At the Mission Gardens Apartments in Santa Cruz, California — a privately owned Section 8 project managed by The John Stewart Company (JSCO) and administered by the California Housing Finance Agency under contract to HUD — JSCO forbids children playing in the parking lot, sidewalks and in trees and bushes. JSCO forbids chasing balls and using children’s play vehicles among other odious restrictions on children’s play.

    Yet JSCO does not provide any designated play areas for children. Thus any parent is vulnerable to lease violations for their children playing in the apartment complex.

    Worst, the apartment complex includes a park, which once contained children’s play equipment but JSCO dismantled it. Because the park has been stripped of play equipment, barbecues, and benches, it is a magnet for drug dealers (who carry out their transactions in broad daylight). Thus this park is not safe for children to play in.

    What I ask, can be done to protect the rights of children to play at the Mission Gardens Apartments?

    • From Kate Agnelli, the Coordinator of Systemic Investigations and Enforcement at Housing Opportunities Made Equal (HOME):

      If the apartment complex specifically mentions in their policies that children are those ONLY forbidden from these practices, there could be a violation of fair housing laws. More information would be required to determine any fair housing violation by reviewing the specific language in the rules and how they are enforced. A recent case settled by DOJ regarding rules may be of interest:

      http://articles.boston.com/2010-11-26/realestate/29305805_1_condo-associations-condo-group-condo-board

      I’d encourage you to contact a fair housing group in your area for assistance and possible investigation of any problematic policies. For more information on organizations in the Santa Cruz area who provide fair housing assistance, please visit:

      http://www.cityofsantacruz.com/index.aspx?page=1002

  2. John,

    For specific information about California’s laws and what kind of violations might be happening here I would recommend you contact the folks below:

    The State Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is the state agency responsible for protecting the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, and from the perpetration of acts of hate violence. The DFEH investigates only discrimination complaints. Contact: 1-800-233-3212 (Within California).

    Fair Housing Law Project
    111 W Saint John St
    San Jose , CA 95113
    (408) 293-4790 (phone)

    Fremont Fair Housing Services
    Fremont Family Resource Center
    39155 Liberty Street, Suite D440
    Fremont , CA 94538
    510-574-2279 (phone)
    510-574-2275 (fax)
    fairhousing@aol.com

  3. Hi- I live in Ohio but stumbled upon this site while researching about our situation. We recently moved into a townhome. We have 3 small children, ages 10,8, and 18 months.The neighbors next to us have been a nightmare. They do nothing but complain about the noise the children make and even bang on the wall if they think something is too loud. I dropped a pan in my kitchen and they beat on the wall. They are an older couple with no children. The day we moved in the gentleman from from next door came over to “welcome” us and proceeded to talk about how the walls were “paper thin” and that you can hear every noise. He said he had been begging the landlords to put in more insulation for years. We have been trying very hard to keep the noise level down, and I’m always on edge. Our children can’t even play normally because I am always telling them to whisper. We go to bed at 9 every night, so we are not making noise at unreasonable hours. About a month ago, we got a letter from the landlord stating that if things didn’t quiet down we would be evicted. Now we leave every evening to go play at a park and try not to come home until almost bed time. I don’t think it’s fair that we would have to live like this. I would love to move, but we have no where else to go. Kids make noise, that’s what they do and the landlord knew we had 3 small children and the neighbors had none. Do you have any advice for me?

    • Hi I read your post and it was like reading about my family. My landlord knew I had three children also ages 7,5,18 monts and a 23 yo girl lives downstairs. I’m always telling them to be quiet. I hate making my kids live like that. Did you get any resolve from your situation? What happened?

      • From our Fair Housing Team:
        This sounds like a major challenge for you and your family. Though the landlord should not have addressed issues with your child directly, this sounds like more of an issue of noise regulation in the building. Landlords are allowed to have rules about noise volume on a lease and can respond with fines and a legal eviction process if the landlord feels the rules have been broken. However, if the landlord is unequally applying the rules about noise, that may be a fair housing concern. For example, if the landlord only holds individuals with young children accountable for a noise violation, but does not address the issue with adults in another unit, that might be a violation of fair housing rights. If you feel as if this is the case, please feel free to call the National Fair Housing Alliance at 1-800-910-7315 for a referral to a local fair housing agency.

  4. I have 3 children under 8 years old and live in a duplex where a lady lives downstairs and after a few months the other tenant started complaining about my kids making too much noise. The landlord came over after 2 warnings to say she was giving us 30 days to fix the problem or we would be evicted. She even told my 5 year old if she didn’t start being quieter we would have to find a new place to live.

    • This sounds like a major challenge for you and your family. Though the landlord should not have addressed issues with your child directly, this sounds like more of an issue of noise regulation in the building. Landlords are allowed to have rules about noise volume on a lease and can respond with fines and a legal eviction process if the landlord feels the rules have been broken. However, if the landlord is unequally applying the rules about noise, that may be a fair housing concern. For example, if the landlord only holds individuals with young children accountable for a noise violation, but does not address the issue with adults in another unit, that might be a violation of fair housing rights. If you feel as if this is the case, please feel free to call the National Fair Housing Alliance at 1-800-910-7315 for a referral to a local fair housing agency.

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