This article was posted on Wednesday, Jan 01, 2020

Earlier this year, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) settled a familial status housing discrimination case in which a family of four alleged that a property management company refused to allow them to rent an apartment in a multi-unit community because the property manager did not consider children to be appropriate residents for the community. The property manager allegedly made statements that the unit might be overcrowded, that neighbors might not be happy with the noise, and that the building was for “business people”.  Every interaction is an opportunity to follow fair housing laws by providing and obtaining only the necessary information. 

DFEH found cause to believe a violation of the Fair Employment and Housing Act had occurred and, after an unsuccessful mediation, filed suit in Alameda County Superior Court. The case settled before trial, with the defendant agreeing to pay $12,500 to the family and $3,500 to the DFEH for fees and costs incurred in litigating the case.  

 Watch What You Say

What can you do to ensure that you don’t find yourself in a similar situation? Here are some tips:

  • Think carefully about the questions you ask prospective residents. It is ok to ask about the number of people who will live in the apartment home, but avoid questions specifically relating to children. For example, don’t say, “How many adults and children will be residing in your apartment home?” Instead say, “How many people will be residing in your apartment home?”
  • Be careful when talking about facilities or services. Don’t post a sign that says, “Children may not skateboard on community property.” Instead say, “Skateboarding is prohibited on community property.” You may require direct adult supervision when children use community services and facilities. However, the rules must not unreasonably restrict a child from using the amenities. So, don’t say, “Children under the age of 14 are prohibited.”  Instead say, “Persons under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult.”
  • Consider your advertising language carefully. It is illegal to create, publish or distribute housing ads that discriminate, limit, or deny equal access to housing because of membership in any of the federally protected classes. When describing housing in an advertisement, do not include any limitations based on familial status, such as “no children allowed”, “couples preferred”, or “singles-friendly”.
  • Don’t Make Assumptions. Do not make assumptions about what an individual may or may not be interested in viewing. Offer options and solutions, but let the prospect make the final decision. Letting prospects make the decision avoids the illegal practice of steering. For example, if you’re touring a mother of young children and only tell her about first-floor apartments because you assume she wants to avoid the stairs, this could be construed as steering. 

Ensure that your company’s policies and training emphasize the importance of equal treatment for families with children. Train employees to avoid making comments that express a preference against residents with children. This includes comments that express a preference for residents without children, like the stated preference for “business people” in the case above.

Ellen Clark is the Director of Assessment at Grace Hill.  Her work has spanned the entire learner lifecycle, from elementary school through professional education. She spent over 10 years working with K12 Inc.’s network of online charter schools – measuring learning, developing learning improvement plans using evidence-based strategies, and conducting learning studies. Later, at Kaplan Inc., she worked in the vocational education and job training divisions, improving online, blended and face-to-face training programs, and working directly with business leaders and trainers to improve learner outcomes and job performance. Ellen lives and works in Maryland, where she was born and raised.

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