For the vast majority of properties, you may not discriminate based on the presence of children. That’s not just local to some states – that’s a federal law. The Fair Housing Act expressly forbids discrimination in housing matters based on the presence of children under age 18 – a subset of the broader prohibited form of discrimination based on ‘familial status.’
- It is unlawful to refuse to rent a dwelling or otherwise make the dwelling unavailable because of familial status.
- It is unlawful to impose different terms, conditions or privileges related to the rental of a building because of familial status.
- It is unlawful to make, or cause to be made, any statement, with respect to the rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation or discrimination based on familial status, or an intention to make any such preference, limitation or discrimination.
There are a lot of ways you can get caught running afoul of the law, too. For example, you cannot advertise your property as one for “adult living,” any more than you can advertise a property as “for whites only.” You would run afoul of 24 CFR 100.75.
In one recent case a property management firm was found liable after a HUD investigation of unlawfully discriminating against a family with four children, and was required to pay monetary damages to fully compensate the complainant for loss of a housing opportunity, out-of-pocket expense, emotional and physical distress, embarrassment, humiliation, inconvenience and “any and all other damages caused by Respondents’ discriminatory conduct in violation of the act, plus a civil penalty in accordance with 42. U.S.C. Sections 3612(g)(3) and 24 C.F.R. Section 180.671 (a)(1).
The respondents, Hot Properties, Inc. in Magee Mississippi, basically had the book thrown at them.
The only exception to the prohibition against discrimination based on familial status arises only if your property is designated as “Housing for Older Persons.” These are age-restricted properties limited to tenants age 55 or older. The relevant federal law is the Housing for Older Persons Act of 1995 (HOPA). If you want to go this route, you can find a lot more information here. However, the requirements are stiff: For your property to qualify, at least 80 percent of occupied units must be occupied by someone age 55 or older. In addition, you or the association or property manager must publish guidelines and policy manuals consistent with the marketing of the property specifically as housing for older persons.
So our advice is: Don’t discriminate against families with children, and make your home for adult tenants only. Don’t try to discriminate against families with children. Don’t even think about trying to discriminate against families with children. The penalties you may face if you are caught – or if someone complains – will more than dwarf any problems most children are likely to cause. When you write that big settlement check to the complainants, you will be wishing you were just having the Kool-Aid stains shampooed out of the carpet.
Writing about personal finance and investments since 1999, Jason Van Steenwyk started as a reporter with Mutual Funds Magazine and served as editor of Investors’ Digest. He now publishes feature articles in many publications including Annuity Selling Guide, Bankrate.com, and more.