March 2015 – The U.S. Department of Justice announced settlement of a Fair Housing violation case against a Community Association and its Management. In addition to requiring a revamped set of Rules, the offenders must pay a $10,000 penalty to the United States and pay $100,000 to six families that suffered as a result of the discrimination.
The Complaint filed in 2013 alleged that the enactment and enforcement of a facially neutral Common Areas Rule was discriminatory. The rule provided that:
Grounds and Landscaping: Playing, picnicking or sunbathing on the common grounds, including lawns, sidewalks, landscaped areas and parking areas is not permitted. Lawn chairs and/or sunbathing are allowed on decks and patios or within the confines of the pool area only. Bicycles, tricycles, scooters, skates, skate boards, roller blades, etc. may not be used on the property.
“The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating against families with children,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta of the Civil Rights Division. “This means more than just allowing those families to live at the property. It means giving these families fair access to the common areas and amenities.”
Our Community Association clients are sometimes unwittingly drawn into potential violations of the FHA and its protection for familial status when refereeing disputes (usually noise related) between owners with and without children. The DOJ has made it clear that Rules and their enforcement which appear to stifle the natural inclinations and sounds of children may result in significant fines and penalties. Our advice: GO SLOW when deciding whether and how to proceed when Rules which seem to effect children at home or at play are involved.