Q: I am a hard-working single mother of a very sweet 3-year-old girl. My little girl and I have been living with my sister while I look for a nice apartment in my price range. It hasn’t been easy. I recently found a perfect place, near a park and not far from a preschool, and submitted an application. The application asked for the “names and ages of applicant and other proposed residents for the unit.” I didn’t hear anything, so I called the landlord. She told me she was very sorry, but felt that it would be unfair to other residents of the building to have a toddler crying and running about. My little girl is a very quiet child. I don’t think we should have been denied an apartment because of the landlord’s preconceptions.
A: The legislators who amended the Fair Housing Act back in 1988 didn’t think so either. That year, they added prohibitions against discrimination based on disability or familial status to the landmark 1968 law. The two new categories joined the existing prohibition against discrimination in the sale, rental or financing of housing based on race, sex, religion, national origin or color.
Discrimination in housing is also prohibited by Michigan’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Familial status is defined in the federal law as “one or more individuals (who have not attained the age of 18 years) being domiciled with … a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual.” Michigan’s law contains similar language. An exception applies to some senior housing. In fact, not only is it against the law to discriminate in housing against people in the protected groups, it’s also a violation of the law to advertise property in a way that might discourage members of these groups from renting or buying.
It is also illegal to require families with children to live on specific floors on in specific areas of a building, or to have overly stringent rules about children’s use of common areas, or to evict tenants who welcome a child into their family.
Based on what you describe, it appears the landlord violated your rights.
You may want to speak to an attorney about your case. An attorney may try to reach an agreement with the landlord without going to court, but if you and the landlord can’t settle the case, an attorney can file a state and/or federal lawsuit on your behalf.
A court can order several different kinds of damages to a winning plaintiff including “equitable relief,” which could, for example, require the landlord to rent the apartment to you, as well as actual expenses and damages for emotional distress, reasonable attorney’s fees and punitive damages.