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Apt. Complex Sued for Keeping Kids Off Grass

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By Betty Wang, JD on November 02, 2013 10:27 AM

A California apartment complex is being sued for attempting to keep kids off the grass.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit last week against the owner and staff of Woodland Garden Apartments in Fremont after they tried to prohibit children in the complex from playing in the grassy common areas, Oakland's KTVU-TV reports.

According to the suit, the Justice Department claims that Woodland's policy is in violation of the Fair Housing Act. Five families have so far filed complaints with the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The Federal Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is the predominant federal law when it comes to housing and discrimination. Its primary purpose is to protect buyers, tenants, and prospective tenants from landlord discrimination.

The FHA explicitly prohibits discrimination based on a person's:

  • Race,
  • Color,
  • National origin,
  • Religion,
  • Sex,
  • Familial status, and
  • Handicap or disability.

As far as prohibited acts go, this may include refusal to rent or sell based on one of the aforementioned factors, or setting different conditions or privileges for the sale or rental of a dwelling based on one of these classes.

Woodland's Policy Too Restrictive?

According to federal officials, Woodland's policy, which the complex explained to residents in a letter, is too restrictive.

The letter stated that the building had a new policy prohibiting children from playing in any of the grassy areas of the complex. The staff supposedly implemented this based on concerns about the landscaping on the grounds being ruined.

However, the Department of Housing and Urban Development determined that this constituted discrimination based on familial status. The FHA doesn't allow this type of discrimination, whether the "family" is a married couple, a couple with kids, or a boyfriend and girlfriend living together.

In this case, the familial status targeted by the policy arguably includes all residents who have children. The policy's restrictions allegedly single out only those particular families, which violates the FHA, according to the Justice Department's lawsuit.

If the suit is successful, the apartment's owner may be fined and a court order will prohibit future discrimination; affected families may also get monetary damages, according to KTVU.

As these tenants have learned, landlord edicts aren't always legal. If you're facing similar issues with a landlord or a certain housing policy that you think may be discriminatory, an experienced landlord-tenant lawyer near you can help you figure out your next move.

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