Familial status refers to the presence of children under the age of 18 in the household, whether the minor is a biological child, adopted, a foster child, or legally under the control of the adult tenant. Familial status discrimination also applies to pregnant women, as well as families that are in the process of adopting or gaining a foster child. It is illegal to discriminate against a prospective or current tenant because there is a child, or will be a child, in the home.
Familial status discrimination includes refusing to rent to families with children, charging higher prices, and limiting families to certain parts of the property, such as the first floor or a separate building. Below, however, are the most common types of familial status discrimination that we encounter at Project Sentinel.
Occupancy standards that unreasonably limit the number of people in a unit can be considered discriminatory. Unreasonably limiting the number of people in a unit, in many cases, automatically excludes most tenants with children. Generally, a housing provider should allow two people per bedroom plus one other person for the entire unit. However, there may be circumstances where more tenants should be permitted, such as when children are very young. There may also be circumstances where fewer tenants should be allowed, such as when the unit is incredibly small.
One way a housing provider may try to get around occupancy rules is by charging less rent for less people, or more rent for more people. These policies are illegal. However, there is one exception. If a housing provider pays for utilities, it may charge a per-person utility rate as long as that rate is reasonably related to the actual cost of utilities. For example, it is permissible to charge $25 for each tenant if the cost of utilities is approximately $25 per person.
A housing provider is entitled to impose reasonable health and safety rules, as long as they apply to both children and adults. For example, it is legal to have a rule that prohibits all tenants from using the parking lot for any reason other than from going to and from their car. This rule applies to all tenants and relates to a safety concern, as loitering in the parking lot can be dangerous. It is also legal to have a neutral rule that requires all tenants to bring personal items—not just toys—inside when not in use.
On the other hand, it is generally illegal to ban children from playing on the grass or on paths, or from using toys on the property. These rules would single out children and child-related behaviors. It is also illegal to have “adult only” areas of the property. All tenants should have access to the entire property.
Keep in mind that the law doesn’t give children permission to cause property damage or engage in unsafe play. It is reasonable to ask all tenants not to climb trees and walls, throw rocks, or trample landscaped bushes.
Generally, children must be permitted to make a reasonable amount of noise for their age, the activity and the time of day. Babies cry, and kids run and scream when playing outside, and in most cases, they shouldn’t be punished for doing so. Lease violations should only be issued when noise is unreasonable, and if an adult tenant would be issued a violation if he were making a similar amount of noise. Nothing in the Fair Housing laws prohibit a housing provider from having reasonable quiet hours, or requiring tenants to keep music and television levels low.
Senior properties that meet the requirements under federal and state law are exempt from the ban on familial status discrimination. These properties generally limit occupants to over 55 years of age, or over 62 years of age. See our page on age discrimination for more information.
A housing provider shouldn’t do any of the following: