Landlord Quick Tip

Tip #196: Child’s Play

boy with hoseOne of the trickiest aspects of Fair Housing laws is dealing with children. Too often landlords run afoul of these rules and find themselves facing significant fines.

Tenants without children may be vocal critics of the neighbors’ kids — complaining that children are making too much noise or otherwise being disruptive.  A landlord may fear that children will cause more damage in a rental property than adults.

But the simple reality is that landlords cannot avoid renting to families with children. In practice,  understanding the nuances of familial discrimination is far from child’s play.  Unfortunately, Fair Housing enforcers are not concerned whether a landlord intends to discriminate.  Any rule that has an adverse impact on families with children — intended or not — is still illegal. Excuses like “I was trying to keep the other tenants happy,” simply won’t cut it.

As a general rule, don’t adopt policies which have the affect of treating families any differently than childless renters. Here are some actions to avoid:

Telling a family that small children cannot live upstairs because you fear they will make too much noise;

Attempting to cover up that belief by telling the family that the upstairs unit is not available;

Segregating families in units away from the general population;

Applying occupancy limits to family members unless you can show that it is entirely unreasonable or creates a financial hardship to stuff that many people into the available unit;

Restricting play in outdoor common areas — even if the rule purportedly applies to everyone;

Prohibiting kid’s bikes or skates in areas where adults can ride or no harm will come from riding;

Setting a curfew for young adults;

Restricting access to older children in common areas unless a supervising adult is present;

Landlords can enforce rules that keep tenants safe or preserve the peace, but only if those policies apply to everyone. For example, no loud music after 11:00 pm, no playing musical instruments after….

But a sign that  says “no playing outside”, a pool restriction that requires all under the age of 18 to be supervised by a parent, or telling a prospective family that you suddenly filled the vacant unit they just toured — unless that’s true — will likely net a fair housing complaint.

See last week’s Landlord Quick Tip.

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