Fair Housing Case Study: Can an HOA restrict access to common areas?

In a complaint filed in October of 2013 residents and a Fair Housing watchdog group alleged that an apartment complex was violating fair housing laws by restricting access to certain common areas. In this post we take a quick look at the complaint and the outcome.

The Complaint and Lawsuit

Allegations of discrimination against families with children were filed that alleged that an apartment complex maintained rules that discriminated against families with children in violation of the Fair Housing Act.  Specifically, the lawsuit challenged a rule that prohibited children from playing outside in the common grassy areas of the complex and provided that families would be evicted if they violated this rule.  The lawsuit also alleged that the actions of the defendants constituted a pattern or practice of discrimination.

The lawsuit arose as a result of complaints filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by five families who lived at Woodland Garden Apartments and by Project Sentinel, a fair housing organization operating in Northern California.  After an investigation of the complaints, HUD issued a charge of discrimination and the complainants were referred to the department.

The Settlement

Under the consent order agreed upon by all parties, the defendants are required to pay $77,500 to the victims of their discrimination and an additional $2,500 to the government as a civil penalty. 

“Federal law guarantees families with children the right to equal access to housing, including full access to their homes’ amenities and facilities,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division.  “Settlements such as this one help ensure that all families can enjoy that right.”

“An apartment complex may not impose conditions on families with children that they do not impose on other residents,” said HUD’s Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity Gustavo Velasquez .  “HUD and DOJ remain committed to enforcing fair housing laws that ensure all people share the same rights to use and enjoy their homes.”

In addition to monetary payments, the consent order requires defendants to implement a nondiscrimination policy, establish new enforcement procedures for rule violations and undergo training on the Fair Housing Act.

Important Takeaways

Federal Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing which includes the right of all residents to use the common areas, including allowing children to play in the grass. To read the Department of Justice press release on this topic, click here.

To help real estate licensees and property managers, VanEd offers a Fair Housing course that is approved for CE in some states but is available everywhere for a nominal fee. This training can be invaluable to those working as property managers, community managers or who act on behalf of the Board of Directors for a Common Interest Community or HOA. Click Here for details.


Written and Published by: VanEd

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