"No kids upstairs" policy costs CA complex $20,000

The owner of Oak Creek Apartments, a 70-unit apartment complex in Petaluma,California, agreed in May to pay $20,000 to settle a family status discrimination lawsuit.

The settlement, which also includes fair housing training for the resident manager, wasreached after a single mother and her twelve-year-old child filed a complaint with aprivate attorney.

Representatives of the owner of the complex, the J. Cyril Johnson InvestmentCorporation, signed the agreement after Peter Lomhoff, a California civil rights attorney,filed a suit in U.S. District Court. The agreement stated that the defendant made noadmission of wrongdoing.

Manager tells mother that she does not put kids in upper floor apartments

Susan (the complainant wishes to keep her last name private) saw a vacancy sign fromthe freeway for Oak Creek Apartments and was interested in looking for a new apartment.Susan telephoned Oak Creek Apartments and spoke to the manager. When she explained to themanager that she and her 12-year-old child would occupy the apartment, the managerallegedly said she did not like to "put kids on the upper floor" and suggestedSusan call back at another time to see if ground-floor units were available.

The manager allegedly told Susan that the apartments ranged in rent from $780 to $825per month, and that families with children were only placed in apartments that rented for$825 per month.

Susan contacted Fair Housing of Marin in San Rafael. A counselor listened to her story,and informed her of her rights under federal and California fair housing laws. FairHousing of Marin then conducted a test for discrimination. The investigation foundevidence that the manager discriminated against families with children.

Fair Housing of Marin sent two testers to apply to rent an apartment at Oak Creek. Onetester told the manager that she was single with a 10-year-old child. The other testertold the manager that she was married and had no children.

The tester with a child was not allowed to visit the property once she revealed thatshe had a child. The manager told the tester that she "doesn't put kidsupstairs."

The manager went on to say that she had no downstairs units available. She advisedthe tester with a child to call back when more downstairs apartment units might beavailable.

The manager gave the tester without children an appointment to view two availableapartments, told her that the neighbors were "couples," and encouraged her toapply. The evidence of family status discrimination revealed during Fair Housing ofMarin's investigation was overwhelming.

Complainant: "Why should I pay a higher rent because I have a child?"

"Initially, I did not want to pursue this situation," said Susan."However, I did not believe that it was right that I should be forced to pay a higherrent elsewhere just because Oak Creek Apartments was discriminating against mychild."

Susan encouraged others who have experienced discrimination to pursue their complaints."By not allowing my child in an upstairs apartment, I was prohibited from renting twounits I could have afforded, and might have liked," she added.

Ground-floor only policies keep families out of most available units

Peter Lomhoff, attorney for the plaintiff, stated, "Restricting families withchildren to ground floor apartments effectively excludes these families from a largesection of the rental housing market." Lomhoff said that landlords should not try todecide which apartments are appropriate for children. That decision, he says, should beleft up to parents.

Nancy Kenyon, Executive Director of Fair Housing of Marin, said that family statuscomplaints account for the largest number of complaints that her agency receives. Kenyonsaid that housing discrimination is especially damaging in Marin County where vacancyrates are very low. Families with children and other persons who are discriminated againstat one Marin County complex are not very likely to find housing elsewhere in the county.

Fair Housing of Marin receives funding from HUD's Fair Housing Initiatives Program.