Six Tips for Dealing with Multigenerational Households

January 22, 2012
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In the February lesson, Fair Housing Coach examines the fair housing implications of the latest trend: the rapid increase in multigenerational living arrangements.

Since the 1940s, the number of Americans living in multigenerational families declined steadily, bottoming out to about 12 percent of—roughly 28 million—Americans in the 1980s, according to a recent analysis by the Pew Research Center. Since then, the trend has reversed course, gradually increasing until it experienced a big jump in the past few years. As of 2008, a record number—16 percent, or nearly 49 million Americans—lived in a multigenerational family.

Many factors are at play, but the overriding reason for the rapid increase in multigenerational living arrangements is the Great Recession, according to Pew researchers. Along with financial woes, changing demographics—the aging population, along with the nation’s increased ethnic and cultural diversity—have fueled the creation of multigenerational households. Changing family structures also play a role. When financial troubles hit, adult sons or daughters may move in with family members, bringing with them an unmarried partner—of either gender—along with one or more children from their relationship or previous relationships.

In one way or another, each of these factors may be related to protected characteristics under fair housing law. So it’s important to recognize potential fair housing pitfalls—along with strategies to avoid them—when dealing with multigenerational families. Here are six rules from the February lesson:

  1. Don’t Discriminate Against Multigenerational Households Based on Protected Characteristics. To comply with fair housing law, your community may not turn away applicants with multigenerational households for discriminatory reasons. Don’t succumb to stereotypes about recent immigrants or members of particular racial, ethnic, or religious groups who, because of cultural reasons, current economic conditions—or both—want to live in the same household.
  2. Adopt Policies and Procedures for Handling Multigenerational Households. Ensure that your community has policies and procedures in place for handling applications from multigenerational households—or perhaps more commonly, requests from current residents to allow relatives—parents, grandparents, children, grandchildren, even great grandchildren—to move in with them.
  3. Don’t Enforce Overly Restrictive Occupancy Standards. Unless a community qualifies under strict rules governing “housing for older persons,” it may not enforce policies, procedures, or rules that have a discriminatory effect on families with children. That means that communities may not apply overly restrictive occupancy standards to keep young children out of the community.
  4. Follow Procedures for Disability-Related Accommodation Requests. When dealing with multigenerational families, keep in mind that you may be called on to make exceptions to occupancy standards or other rules if necessary as a reasonable accommodation for an individual with a disability.
  5. Require All Occupants to Follow the Rules. Take steps to enforce your community rules and to hold everyone living there—residents and their household members—accountable for violations.
  6. Be on the Lookout for Unauthorized Occupants. Put policies in place to detect unauthorized occupants and to deal with them appropriately when they’re discovered. According to security experts, relatives or acquaintances of residents who move in without management’s knowledge can be a source of crime problems in the community.

For the complete lesson and quiz, see “Trend Watch: Dealing with the Rise in Multigenerational Households,” on the Coach’s home page.