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Learn About Fair Housing and Familial Status

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Fair Housing and Familial Status

Did you know that familial status is a protected class under the federal Fair Housing Act? The law states that housing providers may not discriminate based on familial status. This protection covers families with children under the age of 18, pregnant individuals, any person in the process of securing legal custody of a minor child (including adoptive or foster parents), and anyone with written permission of the legal parent or guardian.

History of Familial Status as a Protected Class

Familial status became a protected class under the Fair Housing Act in 1988. At that time interest rates were particularly high, which made it difficult for many families to purchase homes. This influenced more families to rent instead of buying property. However, many housing providers did not want children living in their housing, and outright refused to rent to families. In Oregon, nearly 70% of landlords would not rent to families with children. This created a shortage of housing opportunities for families with children. 

The high rate of discrimination against families with children at that time led to the addition of familial status as a protected class under the FHA. However, there are some exceptions to this rule. One exemption to this rule is housing for older persons. If the housing meets the requirements of senior housing programs, then this rule does not apply. The FHA also does not limit the applicability of reasonable local, state, or federal restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.

Types of Familial Status Discrimination

Discrimination on the basis of familial status was the third highest reported fair housing complaint in 2020. Some common examples of familial status discrimination include refusing to rent to families with children; evicting families once a child joins the family through birth, adoption, or custody; requiring families with children to live on specific floors or in specific buildings or areas; and imposing overly restrictive rules about children’s use of common areas like pools, hallways, and open spaces.

However, housing providers can require that someone using a specific amenity such as a pool meets a basic age requirement or otherwise have adult supervision as set out in law. Housing providers can also require kids to be of a certain age to use any onsite playground type of equipment if that is what is listed in manufacturer’s guidance.

Occupancy limits can also be considered a violation of familial status protections. While the 1991 Keating Memorandum states that two persons per bedroom is a reasonable standard under the Fair Housing Act, there are other factors that can be used to determine occupancy limits in a given space. These factors include the size and design of rooms and units, the ages of a family’s children, and the state and local ordinances dealing with occupancy in the locality where the complainant has filed a complaint.

Steering is another common form of familial status discrimination that violates the FHA. This can happen when a housing provider suggests other properties, units or apartment buildings would be more fitting for a family, or simply states that a prospective property is not suitable for children and therefore deters that family from the property they had chosen. Steering limits a family’s housing choice, which is their right under the Fair Housing Act.

At the intersection of the protected classes of familial status and disability are families with children who have a disability. A common issue that affects families with children who have autism that live in apartments is receiving noise complaints from neighbors. Property managers can do several things to address these types of complaints. They can perform specific renovations to insulate apartments, like installing carpet, white noise machines, or double-paned windows to create a noise buffer in between apartments. They can also act as liaisons between tenants to help facilitate communication and inform their neighbors of the child’s disability status with their permission.

Issues Affecting Families Today

With the current public health crises, economic recession, and the eviction crisis impacting the U.S., families are experiencing abnormal hardship when it comes to housing.

Across Oregon, eviction rates are climbing with the disappearance of pandemic rent assistance and eviction protections, like the Emergency Rental Assistance Program. The 2022 Point in Time Count shows a 17% increase in homelessness in Central Oregon over the past year. Of that total, the number of unaccompanied children rose by 5.5% and the number of all unhoused children increased by 100.9% from the year prior.

Due to higher rates of homelessness, children are inevitably experiencing more barriers to education. During the last school year, over 20,000 students experienced homelessness in Oregon. That is four times the number of homeless students since the McKinney-Vento Act was passed in 1987. A federal program meant to support homeless youth’s education, The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act states that each state educational agency shall ensure that each child of a homeless individual and each homeless youth has equal access to the same free, appropriate public education, including a public preschool education, as provided to other children and youths, among other things. 

Families are also still experiencing the negative impacts of COVID-19 and the new threat of the rise of monkeypox infections. As of Aug. 4, 2022, the CDC ranked five Oregon counties at high level of COVID-19 spread, 17 at medium, and 14 at low. Despite the continued risk of COVID-19 spread, and the recent monkeypox outbreak, Oregon schools are opening back up this fall with little to no precautions. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness or hardship, check out these resources for more information and assistance:

 

Report Housing Discrimination

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