Families Need Not Apply!

By: Tasha Lynch

On July 13, 2018, Southwest Fair Housing Council assisted a young family in filing a complaint against a licensed real estate agent who was renting a townhome in Mesa, Arizona. The complaint was conciliated for $15,000.00.

The couple contacted SWFHC to ask about occupancy standards because they had recently given birth to their fourth child and were moving from their current residence. While explaining HUD occupancy guidelines, SWFHC discovered that the couple had previously found a three-bedroom townhome for rent in Mesa, AZ, near the husband’s employment and children’s schools. They had inquired with the listed realtor (who also owns the unit) about the availability of the housing but were told, through email, that 6 people would be too many for the townhome. The couple emailed back to clarify that four of the occupants would be children, and the realtor responded that he did not want children living in the home.

The Fair Housing Act protects families from being denied housing due to the presence of children in their home. Families cannot be denied housing, steered to certain areas of a property, offered different terms and conditions, or forced to comply with too restrictive of occupancy standards. As a general rule, HUD allows for occupancy to be limited to 2 people per bedroom, plus one person, to occupy an alternative space, such as an office or living room. More about HUD occupancy guidelines can be found in the Keating Memo. Local jurisdictions and housing providers can allow for more occupants to reside in a household, but it is considered unlawful under the Fair Housing Act to be more restrictive than the HUD guidelines.

When the realtor told the couple that he did not want children in the home, they did not realize the Fair Housing Act could protect them. They were forced to find other housing, which was more expensive, resulting in the wife returning to work as well and unexpected childcare costs. Their challenges highlight why Fair Housing Act protections are so important. When protected class individuals are denied free housing choice, their options become limited and every aspect of their life can consequentially be impacted.

After calling SWFHC and realizing what the realtor had told them was wrong, the couple found the emails the realtor had sent them and worked with SWFHC to file a complaint. All parties entered a conciliation agreement which provided $15,000.00 relief to the couple. The realtor will need to attend an approved three-hour fair housing class and provide his rental advertisements to HUD for review for the next three years.