Owners' COVID-19 Visitor Policy Overly Broad, Violates FHA

Owners' COVID-19 Visitor Policy Overly Broad, Violates FHA

HUD recently signed a Conciliation Agreement/Voluntary Compliance Agreement with owners of a HUD-subsidized community in Fairhope, Ala. The agreement resolves allegations and a HUD investigation into whether the owners’ policy prohibiting visitors under the age of 12 due to COVID-19 was discriminatory.

A resident, who had been providing childcare for her grandchildren, was allegedly told that she could no longer do so because it violated the owners’ policy, instituted due to COVID-19, prohibiting visitors to the property under the age of 12. 

One level deeper: Under the agreement, the owners will pay the resident $20,000 and rescind their policy prohibiting visitors to the property who are under the age of 12 and remove playground signage targeting anyone on the basis of age.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from making housing unavailable and imposing discriminatory terms or conditions based on a person’s actual or perceived disability (including the perception that they are unsafe to associate with because of fear they may spread contagious disease) or their familial status, or retaliating against a person for exercising their fair housing rights. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability by recipients of federal financial assistance. In addition, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975 prohibits discrimination on the basis of age in programs or activities receiving federal financial assistance.

What you need to know: HUD views blanket bans on children's visits to be discriminatory even during the COVID-19 pandemic. “While housing providers can certainly take reasonable precautions to protect their residents from COVID-19, such as requiring residents and visitors to wear masks or maintain social distancing in public areas of an apartment building, they may not impose blanket prohibitions on any visits from children no matter what precautions are taken, thus keeping residents from visiting with family and friends in their own homes,” said Demetria McCain, HUD’s Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity. “As the nation continues to recover from the pandemic, HUD remains committed to protecting the rights of individuals and families when their fair housing rights are violated.”

You can read the agreement here.