Oregon family wins $10,000 in "ground floor only" case

The owners of two Oregon apartment complexes have agreed to pay $10,000 to settle a claim of family status discrimination. US District Judge Ancer Haggerty approved the November settlement.

In August 1996, Brent and Wendy Shill and their ten-month-old daughter began a search for a new apartment. Wendy Shill was pregnant with her second child. The Shills wanted to move into an apartment in a building in better condition than the one in which they were living. They also looked for an apartment that would be within their price range and that would be available when their lease expired in October 1996.

Family told of "ground floor" policy for children

The Shills visited Pointe West Apartments in Milwaukie, Oregon. They were told that they would have to rent a ground floor unit. A manager told them that it was a policy at Pointe West to keep families with children on the ground floor.

The Shills really liked Pointe West and submitted an application for rental. Although several second floor units were available, no units on the ground floor were. The Shills were told that they could not have a second floor unit but that they would be put on awaiting list.

The Shills' application was approved, but there were still no ground floor units available. They were told that they could move into another building owned by the defendants, Sunnyside Park. It was also a policy at Sunnyside Park to limit families with children to ground floor units.

At this point, the Shills knew something was wrong. They had once managed an apartment building and knew that treating families with children differently than other tenants was illegal. Soon after their experience, the Shills contacted the Fair Housing Council of Oregon.

The Council conducted several tests at both Pointe West and Sunnyside Park which confirmed that the complexes were limiting families with children to ground floor units. The Council conducted two of the tests with funds from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development's Fair Housing Initiatives Program (FHIP). FHIP funds private groups to do testing and other enforcement and education activities that further fair housing.

Apartment suitability should be up to the tenant, Council says

The decision whether any particular unit was suitable for a family with children should be up to the tenant, according to the Fair Housing Council. The Fair Housing Act guarantees the right to make that choice to families with children.

Wendy Shill said that it is important for people to pursue claims of discrimination."Unless they take a stand, their children will face the same type of discrimination when they are grown and looking for apartments with their families," she said.