Rules That Target Children Really Target Your Association (For Discrimination Lawsuits)

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Does your Association have rules that target children? Does your Association have rules that apply differently to children and adult residents within the community? The following case is a cautionary tale for Condominium Associations and HOAs—repeal those rules now, or potentially face a losing battle pursuant to federal law.

Facts

In a federal district court case from early 2020, a homeowner brought suit against his HOA alleging that the Association’s rules with respect to use of the tennis courts, the pool, and clubhouse were discriminatory. The tennis court rules stated that adults had court privileges over children after 3:00 PM on weekdays and any time on weekends and holidays. The pool rules stated that residents 14 through 18 years of age were limited to one pool guest per person, while adult residents were permitted to have up to 6 pool guests at a time. The clubhouse rules stated that it was reserved for adult use only during summer months while the pool was open. The homeowner claimed that these three rules discriminated against families with children (also known as “familial status”), which is prohibited by the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). Court Rulings

The trial court found in favor of the homeowner on a summary judgment motion. The Court found that the rule in homeowner’s association handbook, providing that the clubhouse was reserved for adult use only during summer months while the pool was open, constituted discrimination on its face based on familial status, in violation of the FHA. The Court also found that the clubhouse rule was an outright ban on children’s use of common area facilities, such that the rule imposed different terms upon, and limited services to, families with children, and was therefore also discriminatory. Finally, the Court held that the pool rules limiting guests unambiguously targeted children of a certain age group and treated families with children differently than other households, which also violates the FHA. In sum, the Court found that these three rules were facially discriminatory (meaning, discriminatory on its face—you can tell just by reading the rule that it discriminates). The FHA favors the homeowner in such cases where the court finds that the HOA rules are facially discriminatory, in that injury to the complaining homeowner is presumed. Such injury can include embarrassment, emotional distress, and humiliation to the aggrieved homeowner. Based on the Court’s findings, the only issue that went on to trial was the amount of the damages award to the homeowner, and that amount remains to be seen in further proceedings.

Lesson

If your Association has any rules that target children, give adults different rights and/or privileges than children, or if any of your rules even mention children, you should consult your Association attorney about possible rewording to avoid discrimination claims based on familial status. As demonstrated by this case, all that a federal judge needs to do is find that your rule is discriminatory on its face and it can spell big damage awards from judges and juries, which will be extremely expensive for the Association.

Hill v. River Run Homeowners Association, Inc., 2020 WL 603473 (D. Idaho)

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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