A Florida condominium association and its former management company agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a fair housing claim alleging that they enforced occupancy limits that discriminated against families with children. In the case, a family of two parents and six children moved into a 4 bedroom unit. The association, however, had a rule limiting occupancy of a 4 bedroom unit to just 6 people. The association notified the family of the “problem” and threatened them with eviction for violation of the occupancy restrictions, causing the family to move out. Following a HUD investigation, the Justice Department sued the association and its management company, claiming that they engaged in a pattern or practice of violating fair housing law by adopting and enforcing overly restrictive occupancy standards.
The association and management company agreed to pay $45,000 to the family that filed the complaint, $85,000 into a fund to compensate other alleged victims, and $20,000 in civil penalties. Additionally, the association and its management company were ordered to receive training on fair housing requirements and prohibited from discriminating against families with children in the future.
Generally, subject to state and local law, a two persons per bedroom limitation is a reasonable standard under federal fair housing law. If, though, a complaint is made, the following factors are also taken into consideration: the size and number of bedrooms; the configuration of the unit; the age of the children; any building systems limitations; and state and local occupancy requirements. Associations should always focus on the number of people who occupy the units, not the number of children.
Similarly, an association’s rules governing behavior in common elements, such as hallways, outside spaces, and parking lots, cannot single out children for different treatment than adults, unless there is a genuine safety consideration. For example, a rule prohibiting children from playing in the street is discriminatory, as the rule should apply to all owners or residents equally. A rule requiring an adult to accompany children under the age of twelve while using the swimming pool is permitted because it addresses legitimate safety concerns relating specifically to children.
As this Florida association unfortunately experienced, violations of a fair housing laws carry the possibility of severe penalties, including compensatory and punitive damages, as well as an award of attorneys’ fees.