HUD Charges Wyoming Property Owner With Familial Status Discrimination

Fox Rothschild LLP

Fox Rothschild LLP

I know I have written about this before, but a housing provider in Wyoming was just charged with familial status discrimination pursuant to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) by the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) related to newly written community rules that HUD asserts unfairly targeted children.

According to HUD’s charge, the housing provider posted a notice on each apartment door directing tenants to “Please Supervise Your Children When They Are Outside” owing to the fact that management had been receiving “way too many complaints about kids on bikes driving in front of cars…” Later that same month, management issued new community rules for the property contained in a new “Community Notice” which was again placed on each apartment door. The notice, by its terms, restricted play areas and imposed a curfew because of alleged complaints about unsupervised children. According to HUD’s complaint, breaking these new rules would result in lease violation notices as well as possible eviction actions.

Not surprisingly, a resident with children received a lease violation notice (asserting that sunflower seeds were left on the sidewalk). In an effort to comply with the new rules, one of the residents (according to HUD) was forced to generally keep her kids inside because she was unable to provide “supervision” when the children were outside. And when she took her kids outside, it was for limited periods of time (as the resident also had a baby who required care). After suffering stress, the residents moved out and filed the instant complaint. HUD also claims the residents had problems finding a new home and that their new residence was not convenient and the kids were forced to find new friends, change schools, and were bullied.

While I am not involved and know there is another side to the story, what we see here is an example of community rules written in such a way as to permit HUD to charge the owner with familial status discrimination under the FHA. Now, should property management have Community Rules? Absolutely. But you might want to consult with a lawyer like me to help draft them in a way so as to avoid a complaint like this. As this charge makes clear, HUD disfavors rules which, on their face, appear to disadvantage children. For example, a better rule is one that prohibits anyone from playing in the parking lot. That checks the same safety box while not targeting kids. Similarly, if you want to prevent what you perceive as horseplay and/or excessive noise – don’t limit the offending conduct to kids. Enforce the same noise rules for children and adults. But recognize a baby crying is going to happen. And it may happen late at night.

Finally, you need to be careful of curfews for teenagers.  Sure, you may have great intentions — safety as well as peace and quiet.  But what about the 17 year old who works the night shift at a local fast food restaurant and arrives home around midnight?  Technically, he or she is breaking curfew by just driving to his or her home. Again, that is not what you are trying to prevent — but I have been in cases where HUD makes this very claim.

Just A Thought.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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