Novato, CA apartment complex owner to pay $16,000 to settle family discrimination case

The owner of Court Apartments in Novato, California agreed to pay $16,000 to settle a family status discrimination lawsuit. The settlement was reached in April after a complaint was filed with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by Fair Housing of Marin for Elizabeth Austin, a single mother.

Austin had responded to an advertised vacancy at Court Apartments. Richard Biddard, the resident manager at Court Apartments, originally refused to show Austin the apartment because she was not a senior citizen (over the age of 55). Austin explained that although she was not herself a senior, she worked with and enjoyed being around seniors. Biddard checked with Court Apartments owner, Verna Bourne, and agreed to show the available apartment to Austin. However, when Biddard learned that Austin had a young child, he told her that children were not allowed at the complex and she would not be allowed to move into the Court Apartments.

Austin contacted Fair Housing of Marin who informed her of her rights under Federal and State fair housing laws and conducted an investigation. The investigation found evidence that Court apartments discriminated against both age (seniors only) and family status (refusal to rent to families with children). They also established that Court Apartments did not meet federal requirements necessary to be a seniors-only complex. Nancy Kenyon, the Director of Fair Housing of Marin, attempted to resolve the problem directly with Bourne. When Bourne insisted she was going to rent only to seniors, Fair Housing of Marin decided to take Austin's case to HUD.

Austin said she "felt exceedingly unwelcome, unwanted, and discriminated against" because she had a child. She added, "Fair Housing of Marin was 100 percent in my court. They really care about people and the community. In contrast, bureaucrats in the U.S. Attorney's office were simply interested in getting files off their desks."

Kenyon said, "Senior housing is certainly an important need in our county, and state and federal governments have provided a mechanism for this type of housing. However, to qualify as senior housing, an apartment complex must meet federal requirements under the Fair Housing Act. This complex did not meet those standards, and therefore, had to be open equally to families with children. We recognize that children are different as tenants; however, turning away renters because they have children lengthens their housing search, limits them to less desirable locations, and often costs them more."