Fair Housing Claims Based on Familial Status - Questions and Answers

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Last week we uploaded “10 rules on how to avoid fair housing claims based on familial status”.   This week, let’s look at how the rules might apply in the real world. Here are  4 questions - with answers posted on MHCO.ORG.  


INSTRUCTIONS: Each of the following questions has only one correct answer. 


Question 1:  An applicant and his pregnant wife want to rent an available one-bedroom unit. You’re concerned about potential noise complaints about a crying baby, but you could be accused of discrimination based on familial status if you tell them that the unit is no longer available. True or false?

a.            True.

b.            False.


Answer 1:A


DO Make Housing Available to Families with Children

DON’T Deny Housing Because There’s a Child in the Household

DO Be Careful About Applying Occupancy Standards When a Child Joins a Household

DON’T Penalize Residents for Having a Baby


You could trigger a fair housing complaint for denying housing to the couple by misrepresenting the availability of the unit because they’re expecting a child. The law banning discrimination based on familial status protects pregnant women in addition to families with children under 18.


Question 2:  A couple with twin toddlers asks about available two-bedroom units. There are three available—two on the ground floor and one on the fourth floor. There’s an obvious danger of children falling from balconies, so it’s okay to tell them only about the two ground-floor units. True or false?

a.            True.

b.            False.


Answer 2:  B


DO Tell Prospects About All Units that Fit Their Needs

DON’T Engage in Unlawful Steering Based on Familial Status

Even if acting out of good intentions, you could be accused of violating fair housing law if you tell them about only the ground-floor units. To avoid accusations of unlawful steering, you should tell them about all available units and let them decide where they’d prefer to live.


Question 3:  Most of your residents have lived at the community for many years. Since most are over 55, you are justified under the senior housing exemption to restrict occupancy to adults and to advertise the building as an “adult” community. True or false?

a.            True.

b.            False.


Answer 3:  B


DO Follow the Rules to Qualify for the Senior Housing Exemption

DON’T Adopt or Enforce Adults-Only Policy

DO Focus Advertising on Property, Not People

DON’T Suggest that Children Aren’t Welcome at Your Community

Even if most of your residents are 55 and older, your community would not qualify for the senior housing exemption unless you comply with all of the law’s technical requirements. Otherwise, your community could be accused of denying housing and discriminatory advertising based on familial status.


Question 4:  A community may not be found liable for housing discrimination for applying occupancy standards limiting all units to two people per bedroom. True or false?

a.            True.

b.            False.



Answer: B


DO Be Prepared to Justify Reasonableness of Occupancy Standards

DON’T Apply Unreasonably Restrictive Occupancy Standards

HUD’s two-person-per-bedroom standard is only a general guideline to determine whether a community’s occupancy standards are reasonable under federal fair housing law. Communities may have to allow more than two people per bedroom based on applicable state or local occupancy standards, the size or configuration of the unit, and other factors. According to federal guidelines, an occupancy policy limiting the number of children per unit is less likely to be reasonable than one that limits the number of people per unit.

Example: In September 2019, HUD charged the owners of a Georgia apartment building with violating fair housing law by refusing to rent to, imposing different rental terms and conditions on, and making discriminatory statements about families with children. In their HUD complaints, fair housing advocates and the mother of two minor children alleged that the owners applied a policy limiting the number of children who could reside in their apartments. Allegedly, the owners’ business voicemail recording announced the policy to persons who phoned looking for housing, and their policy allowed only one child in a two-bedroom unit and two children in a three-bedroom unit.



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