Enforcing Occupancy Standards May Violate Fair Housing Act
While federal guidelines suggest limiting occupancy to two persons per bedroom, sites cannot use occupancy standards to discriminate against residents based on their familial status. Residents of an Albuquerque, N.M., site filed that complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in June 2008 against the site owners and manager.
According to HUD, the couple moved into a one-bedroom unit at the Aztec Manor Apartments in September 2007, and signed a month-to-month lease that stated an occupancy limit of two per bedroom. In January 2008, the site manager learned that the female resident was pregnant. The manager then questioned the male resident, who confirmed the pregnancy. Later that day, the manager provided the residents with a 30-day notice to terminate the rental agreement.
The site manager admitted that he issued the nonrenewal of lease notice because he felt that the residents would be in violation of the two-per-bedroom lease requirement as a result of the pregnancy. The manager never questioned the residents about the due date of their child, and he did not offer them the opportunity to move to a two-bedroom unit. At the time of the residents' occupancy, there were no two-bedroom units available for rent.
HUD charged that the site owners and manager engaged in discriminatory housing practices in violation of 42 U.S.C. §3604(a) of the Fair Housing Act. The case will now go before an administrative law judge who may award damages to the residents for actual loss as a result of the discrimination, as well as damages for economic loss and emotional distress, and impose a civil penalty against the site owners and manager for each violation of the Fair Housing Act.