What Is The “Mrs. Murphy” Exception To The Fair Housing Act?

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I get this question about exemptions to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) regularly, so I thought I would provide a refresher on the “Mrs. Murphy” exception to the FHA. At the outset, please know that apartment community owners, management companies, and leasing office staff members I represent are almost always covered by the FHA as well as companion state, city, or county anti housing discrimination laws. In my world, the FHA and its implementing regulations are part of the guidebook concerning how we do business. The FHA does, however, contain a few exceptions — one of the exemptions is referred to as the “Mrs. Murphy” exception.

The “Mrs. Murphy” exemption provides that if a dwelling has four or fewer rental units and the owner lives in one of those units, that home is exempt from the FHA. “Mrs. Murphy” is the hypothetical elderly widow who has converted a portion of her home into a rental apartment to supplement her limited income.

To be sure, the exemption does not apply to rental advertising. That means Mrs. Murphy cannot run a discriminatory advertisement indicating, for example, that a certain religious group is not welcome to rent her apartment or room. Also, this exemption does not apply when a real estate agent is representing the property owner as the law presumes agents are professionally trained and aware that housing discrimination is against the law.

Also, HUD takes the position that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (yes, 1866) makes it illegal to discriminate based on race — and as such, there is no exemption from the law when dealing with race.

Should the “Mrs. Murphy’s” of the world discriminate? Of course not. But, the FHA does not apply in this limited circumstance and it can be a defense to a housing discrimination action.

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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