8 “Don’ts” When Dealing with Families with Children

In its October 2013 lesson, the Coach reviews fair housing protections based on familial status. The phrase “familial status” isn’t that common in everyday life, so it’s easy to get confused over exactly what it means.

In general, the familial status provisions are aimed at preventing discrimination based on the presence of one or more children under 18 living in the household. The law covers parents, guardians, and others who have permission to have custody of the child. It also protects pregnant women and those in the process of obtaining legal custody of a child under the age of 18.

The October lesson reviews the law on familial status, including what it means, whom it covers, and how the exception for senior housing applies. To avoid potential trouble spots, here are some tips on what NOT to do when dealing with families with children:

Don’t deny housing to households with children: Some housing providers have strong reservations against renting to households with children because of concerns about potential noise complaints from crying babies or boisterous youngsters, damage to the unit or common areas from playing children, or liability for falls or other accidents involving young children. Though you may believe your concerns are justified, you can’t refuse to rent to an applicant simply because there are children living in the household.

Don’t claim senior housing exemption unless you qualify: Fair housing rules exempt senior housing communities from the familial status provisions, but only if the community satisfies all the legal requirements to qualify as “housing for older persons.” Otherwise, it’s unlawful to enforce an “adults-only” policy or to adopt rules to exclude children under age 18.

Don’t treat prospects differently because they have children: It’s unlawful to impose different terms and conditions of a tenancy on households based on familial status, so you can’t make the leasing process more cumbersome, or quote higher rental terms, in an effort to discourage applicants with children from renting in your community.

Don’t apply unreasonable occupancy standards: Fair housing law doesn’t prevent communities from maintaining reasonable occupancy policies as long as they apply them consistently. But it’s unlawful to set overly restrictive occupancy standards that have the effect of excluding families with children.

Don’t express unlawful preferences in statements or advertising: Fair housing law makes it unlawful to make any statements, orally and in writing, expressing a preference against families with children under 18. Advertisements may not contain limitations on the number or ages of children, or state a preference for adults, couples, or singles, according to HUD guidelines.

Don’t engage in unlawful steering: When showing units to prospects, tell them about all available units that meet their stated requirements. Limiting a prospect’s housing choices because they have children under 18 in the household is a fair housing violation, commonly known as “steering.”

Don’t unfairly target children in community rules: It’s okay to enforce rules governing residents’ behavior in common areas, such as hallways, parking lots, and outside spaces, but you could face a discrimination claim if your rules unreasonably target children or limit their behavior.

Don’t discriminate against residents for adding a child to the household: As long as the unit is large enough for the family under applicable occupancy limits, it’s unlawful to discriminate against a resident who has a baby, adopts a child, or takes custody of grandchildren.

To read the complete lesson and take the Coach’s Quiz, click here.