I have written any number of times about the perils of "familial status" discrimination. Again, in our Fair Housing Act (FHA) world, "familial status" means families with children (as well as women who are pregnant or someone preparing to adopt a child). Added to the FHA in 1988, "familial status" is a protected class and management must ensure that all covered housing is offered to families with children as appropriate. The consequences of not doing so can be expensive.
Admittedly an exceptional case with uncommon facts, just last week a jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida awarded more than $1 million to seven families it found to have been wrongfully removed from their Florida homes because they had children living in the households. After a four-day trial, the jury awarded both compensatory and punitive damages.
The plaintiffs lived in Pelican Lake Village, a 117-unit apartment community in Pahokee, Florida. In late 2008, the Pelican Lake Village landlord and a prison ministry completed a deal under which the ministry agreed to lease the entire property and rent units to recently released sex offenders. After some discussions, the landlord and prison ministry simply began to force all of the families with children to move out.
The evidence at the trial revealed that in December, 2008, the landlord sent notices to the families stating that "IF YOU HAVE CHILDREN LIVING OR STAYING IN THE APARTMENT UNDER THE AGE OF 18 YEARS OLD, YOU WILL HAVE TO VACATE THE PROPERTY BEFORE JANUARY 1st, 2009." At the same time, the prison ministry employees knocked on families' doors instructing them to leave. Those efforts were successful -- but led to the filing of the instant lawsuit.
To be sure, most familial status complaints involve advertising which notes "Adults Only" or "College Students Preferred" as contrasted with specifically directing families to vacate. Nevertheless, this case is yet another reminder to management that we welcome families with children to our communities. If not, you might need to speak with a lawyer like me.
Just a Thought.