Familial Status

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What’s wrong with saying a property “isn’t suitable for children?”

A landlord discouraging parents with children from renting, regardless of the intention, is discriminatory.

In 1988 the Fair Housing Act was amended to include familial status as a protected class. Familial status is protected at a federal level.

Familial status, or families with children, includes anyone who has legal custody of children under 18, including biological parents, stepparents, foster parents, grandparents, or other relatives or guardians. It applies to anyone expecting children, such as pregnant women or individuals in the process of adopting a child. It is illegal to refuse to rent or to change rental conditions for families because they have children.

Examples of discrimination include:
  • Advertisements that discourage families with children, such as “Single Occupancy,” or “Adults Only.”
  • Steering or limiting families with children to live in particular areas of a neighborhood or dwelling, such as only allowing children in ground floor units.
  • Unreasonable occupancy standards, such as separate rooms for children, or separate rooms for parent and child. 50 square feet per person is the minimum requirement for occupancy in Virginia.
  • Setting different income requirements for single mothers.
  • Charging additional fees per child, or a higher security deposits for teenagers.
  • Requiring that children always be at school or under adult supervision when the parent/guardian is at work.
  • Asking a parent or guardian how they intend to afford rent and provide for their children.
  • Running criminal background checks on teens.
  • Requiring that children of different genders sleep in different rooms.
  • Not allowing child and parent to share a bedroom.
  • Suggesting a home is not suitable for children because the neighbors/neighborhood are quiet or because there is no playground nearby.

The only exception to the familial status protection applies to communities for the elderly. Senior communities may legally turn away families with children. However, the property has to be for the explicit purpose of serving the elderly and a minimum of 80% of the units must be occupied by persons 55 of age and older.

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The work that provided the basis for this publication was supported by funding under a grant with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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