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How to Know Whether Your Landlord Is Unfairly Discriminating Against Children

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Family

Reasonable rules aimed at protecting children are justified.

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If you're living in a rental with children that's not part of an exempt senior community, you should feel comforted to know that federal law protects you and your family against discrimination. Among the Fair Housing Act's seven protected classes is "familial status," which refers to the presence of children under 18. Given this protection, you might wonder why so many landlords appear to get away with adopting and enforcing rules that single out children.

Familial status discrimination is a little different than other types of discrimination. There's never a legal justification for singling out people based on their race, national origin, or sex, for example. But it's okay for a landlord to single out children -- if the landlord's rules are aimed at protecting children's health and safety, and if they're reasonable.

This should come as no surprise, given that no one wants to see children hurt, and landlords who don't take steps to protect their tenants open themselves up to serious liability.

So, how can you tell if a rule at your apartment building is legal? Just ask yourself these two questions:

  1. Is the rule aimed at protecting children's health and safety?

    Rules that should really apply to everyone don't pass this test. For example, a lease clause banning children from acting rowdy in the common areas unfairly singles out children. The idea of banning rowdy behavior in the common areas is fine, but why not ban rowdy behavior altogether, regardless of whether it comes from children or adults?

    Also, be wary of rules that may appear to be aimed at protecting children because they're lumped in with other rules that are. For example, chances are if your building has a pool, it also has a set of pool rules, many of which protect children (for example, by requiring adult supervision below a certain age). But a rule banning children from the pool during certain hours is probably aimed at giving adults a chance to enjoy the pool alone -- not at protecting children from harm.

  2. Is the rule reasonable?

    If you've answered "yes" to the first question, the rule is probably legal. But it's possible that a rule aimed at protecting children goes a bit too far. For example, requiring all children under 18 -- including high school students -- to have adult supervision when using the pool is a bit far-reaching in its attempt to keep children safe.

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