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Landlords can't make safety rules only for children

Fair housing laws prohibit treating families with children differently from other residents. Limiting these families to certain parts of a rental community is not allowed.

August 14, 2011|By Martin Eichner

Question: I recently stopped at a rental property to apply for a two-bedroom apartment. I had my two young children with me at the time. When I spoke to the on-site rental agent, she told me the available unit was on the second floor. She said I could not apply for that unit because they did not rent second-floor units to families with young children. She said the owner had nothing against children, but the units have open balconies. The owner felt there was too much danger of small children being injured by falling off the balconies. Is it legal for the owner to exclude me from the second floor?

Answer: Families with one or more children under age 18 living in the household are protected from discrimination by fair housing laws. This "familial status" discrimination applies to refusals to rent or sell to families with children. It also prohibits treating families with children differently from other residents in the terms and conditions of housing. Limiting these families to certain parts of a rental community, or certain floors in a building, are included in the prohibited discriminatory practices.

Here it sounds as if the landlord was concerned that the open balconies constitute a safety risk for children. But that does not permit violation of the familial status protections.

Landlords can establish reasonable safety rules that apply to everyone, but safety rules cannot apply only to children. In this case, if the landlord is concerned that the open balconies are a safety risk, the landlord could address the risk by taking some action or making some modification that would mitigate the risk.

Excluding children instead of addressing the risk may seem more economical to a landlord, but the result is that families like yours find themselves excluded from significant portions of the housing market. For more details, contact your local fair housing agency.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.

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