COACH's Pop Quiz!
Q: You could face a fair housing complaint for allowing only one occupant to live in studio units. True or false?
A: True. In October 2017, a court ordered the owner of a Washington community to pay more than $127,000 in damages for violating federal, state, and local fair housing laws based on familial status by enforcing an occupancy policy allowing only one occupant in studio units.
The case began when an advocacy group conducted fair housing testing at the 96-unit apartment complex where two-thirds of the units were studios, all over 400 square feet. According to the group, its testing confirmed that the community rented the studio units only to single occupants. The group sued, arguing that the community’s occupancy restriction had an adverse discriminatory effect on families with children.
The court agreed, rejecting the community’s claim of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons to justify the rule. Among other things, the community argued that the units were too small to accommodate more than one person, but the court pointed out that the city code allowed two people to occupy a studio unit as small as 150 square feet [Fair Housing Center of Washington v. Breier-Scheetz Properties, LLC, October 2017].
For more information about this and other recent fair housing rulings, see the Coach’s November 2017 lesson, “Takeaway Lessons from Recent Court Rulings on Fair Housing Law,” available to subscribers at here.