If you have children or you plan to have children living with you in your apartment some day, you should be aware of how the law protects families with children against illegal discrimination.
Some landlords don't want children living in their building, and so they refuse to rent to families with children. But what many of these landlords don't know is that the Fair Housing Act (FHA) bans discrimination based on "familial status," which means they're violating federal law.
If a landlord, leasing agent, or other housing professional attempts to limit your housing choices because you have children, you can pursue a fair housing claim against them -- just as if you were discriminated against based on another protected class or characteristic, such as race, religion, or disability.
Qualifying for Familial Status Protection
To qualify for familial status protection under the FHA, you must be:
- the child's parent,
- the legal custodian of the child, or
- the "designee" of the child's parent or legal custodian, with that person's written permission.
As you can see, the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination broadly protects families with children without regard to whether the adults in the household are the child's biological parents.
Plus, if you're the parent or legal guardian and you formally designate someone (for example, the child's grandparent) to live with and care for your child, that household is covered by the FHA's protections. Also, your marital status is irrelevant, which means you can be married, single, divorced, or widowed without it affecting your familial status protection.
In addition to the above, your child must be:
- under 18 years old,
- biological or adopted, and
- already a household member or expected to be one.
As long as there is at least one child under 18 living in the household, familial status protections apply. So, if you're currently covered under the FHA, you'll enjoy this protection until the youngest child in your household turns 18.
(Note: Simply living with your children doesn't get you familial status protection. If the children living with you are 18 or over, they're adults and so your household doesn't qualify as a family with children.)
The definition of familial status is broad and, as mentioned above, the FHA doesn't distinguish between biological or adopted children. The key is that you have legal custody of the children who live with you (or you've at least been designated by the children's parent or legal guardian to live with and care for them.)
You're even covered if you don't yet have children under 18 living with you but you expect this to change soon. The FHA's familial status protections apply to tenants who are pregnant as well as tenants who are in the process of adopting a child. This is a particularly important protection for prospective tenants because it means landlords can't turn them away or require them to rent a larger apartment that's more than they can afford simply because they're expecting a child.
Familial Status and the Senior Housing Exemption
Take note that the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination is lifted for certain types of senior housing. Owners of qualifying senior communities across the United States may legally discriminate against children. If you plan on conducting an apartment search that will include senior communities, find out the circumstances under which children may live there, so you know what to expect.
Apartment Rules Affecting Children
Since federal law bars discrimination based on familial status, you might assume that any lease provision or house rule that restricts children is illegal. But courts have held that, despite the ban, landlords may single out children if the rules are reasonably aimed at protecting their health and safety.