Avoiding Discrimination Based on Family Size

You may think that discrimination means that you can’t say certain things, or you can’t deny someone a rental for things like race, gender, and other obvious issues. However, did you know that discriminating against someone with children is also an actionable offense?

Now, if you run a retirement community, this is okay. However, if you just manage your normal, run of the mill properties: this is another matter entirely and yes, discriminating against potential tenants with children, or having a “children excluded” clause is legally considered a form of discrimination. Tenant rights includes their children according to the Fair Housing Act.

Unless a building or community qualifies as housing for older persons, it may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, it may not discriminate against families in which one or more children fewer than 18 live with:

  • A parent
  • A person who has legal custody of the child or children or
  • The designees of the parent or legal custodian, with parent or custodians written familial status protection also applies to pregnant women and anyone securing legal custody of a child under 18


Lately, charges against such cases of discrimination have been on the rise by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. In any case where it is found that a property manager has discriminated against a prospective tenant based on familial status, damages and attorney fee coverage may be ordered. Additionally, that judge may also order equitable relief to prevent discrimination on down the line. If it goes to a federal court, you may also face punitive damages, as well.

So, how do you protect yourself against potential discrimination charges? The short answer is: don’t discriminate. However, there are a few things you should know:

  • When it comes to occupancy limits family size does not count. That means, you cannot use occupancy limits as a reason to deny a large family a rental unit.
  • Never, ever list an “adults only” policy anywhere even connected to your properties.
  • You cannot have different deposit amounts for families than you do for single people. Your deposit should be exactly the same for a family of four as it is for the single guy renting the same sized unit.
  • Be very careful in what you say and advertise. If someone can easily see that the property is not child-friendly, you are toeing the line towards discrimination.

If you and your staff are not very familiar with the Fair Housing Act, you should be. There are a number of guidelines and otherwise that everyone needs to know to protect you from potential discrimination cases and accusations.

About the author

Kurt Kroeck

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By Kurt Kroeck

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