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Fair Housing Suit Over Wiffle Ball Game

What started as a wiffle ball game has snowballed  into a Fair Housing prosecution.

wiffle ball sparks Fair Housing complaint

A landlord, its property management company, and an individual property manager are now in legal trouble over their handling of an outdoor common area surrounding a Massachusetts apartment complex.

Among the infractions: fining parents for children who play wiffle ball outside on the lawn, retaliating against the families for filing a complaint with a local discrimination authority, and planting trees in the middle of a play area to limit the access by children.

 

The government alleges that, in tandem, these actions violate the Fair Housing Act and state civil rights legislation.

According to the complaint, at least one adult resident complained that watching children playing ball in the yard made her “feel like we are living in the projects.”

House rules prohibited “organized sports” or other activities that “may cause noise”, including gatherings of more that 10 people.

Acting on the resident complaint, the property manager warned the parents to rein in the kids.

What followed were more attempts to limit the children’s access to the common areas, including designating a field in the back of the complex as the only appropriate place for recreational activity. The field is surrounded by woods on two sides and is a distance from most of the units, making it difficult for parents to supervise their children there.

The property manager also sent out memos, and allegedly took photos of children playing.
When the childs’ play continued, the parents received letters alerting them they were being fined:

$10 per day for children playing on the common;

$10 per day for actions allegedly causing damage to the common;
$25 for damage to the common area lawn;
and $427.50 for attorneys fees “incurred in this matter.”

The attorneys fees were for writing the letter advising of the fines.

Upon investigation by a local housing authority, it became clear that parents were the only tenants being fined over common area infractions.  The investigation revealed that adults who hosted gatherings with more than 10 guests were not fined, nor had any other tenant been subject to the attorneys fee claim.

After a hearing on the discrimination claim by the local authority, the property management company attempted to charge the tenants the $1,000 of attorneys fees it incurred defending the claim.

The case was then referred to the Department of Justice for prosecution.  The government is seeking an injunction against future discrimination, reimbursement of the tenants’ monetary damages, and a civil penalty to deter similar behavior.

See our feature, Fair Housing “Zero-Tolerance” Policy.

 
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  • [email protected]

    This would, on its’ surface, be the definition of capricious and arbitrary on the part of the management firm.

    This is the sort of thing that any responsible property manager would never, ever consider doing without first consulting closely with the home owner, secondly consulting with an attorney with good qualification, and thirdly reviewing their own actions through the lens of liability.

    I am flabbergasted that an allegedly professional property manager would behave so far outside the industry’s good standards and practices. This is careless and reckless disregard of the rules that puts a black eye on the industry.

  • Did the Fair Housing people take into consideration the things being tossed may break a window and hurt someone. To me these Fair Housing People are overstepping their boundries. I gather they want to pay for any property destroyed. NOT.

  • Joseph

    House rules are house rules. You follow them or you are fined, if that is stated in the lease agreement. The property manager should fine the adults if they do not follow the rules. If you do not want anyone to use the common grassy area, remove it and put in cement, or bricks, or fake grass. If the property management wants the grass let the tenants use it and if they destroy it then they can have there kids play on want ever is left (dirt).

  • Kimberly

    I’m siding with Fair Housing. It was discrimination. If the property owners only want super quiet adults, they should change their complex to a senior complex. That’s the only way they will legally get what they want.

    Frankly, the attitudes of people who want to protect grass over providing a safe place for children to play are reprehensible. These days, helping parents be good parents is a win for apartment complexes and society at large. The days of children being “seen not heard” are over.

    There are types of grass that are more play friendly.

    One other thing, wiffle balls do not break windows.

  • Kathy

    I am thankful that there are professionals who understand that the actions of the Manager, and the Property Management company (who by the way cannot delegate their responsibility to act lawfully) was discriminatory.

    In my opinion, the Manager attempted to “segregate” the children who are protected under Title VIII (familial status) and thier parents were penalized for allowing the children to exercise thier rights with could be called retaliation under Title VIII.

    Shame, Shame, Shame. If they have never read the Civil Rights Act before, I am certain, they are reading it now…. That is a good thing. Those who choose to own property and work in the industry should be heald accountable.

  • [email protected]

    A reminder to all property managers: no matter what disclosures you have and how well worded your contract is, no contract circumvents the statutes and codes that protect the public by giving them “Civil Rights”. An illegal contract is not enforceable, regardless of how many notices you post and what rules you make up. If those rules are illegal, then they are not enforceable.

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