Single mom wins $30,000 from California landlord

The owner of a three-bedroom rental house in Novato, California agreed to a $30,000payment to settle a federal lawsuit alleging family status discrimination in housing. TheOctober 1997 settlement resolves the complaint filed by Jennifer Becker and her10-year-old child. Becker received guidance in filing her complaint from Fair Housing ofMarin, a non-profit group in San Rafael. Scott Chang, a California civil rights attorney,represented Becker .

Becker responded to an ad for the home in a local newspaper. Shewas interested in sharing the house with another woman who also had a small child.

Owner tells prospective tenant that house is unsuitable for children

Becker spoke to the owner of the house, William Timmer, and explained that she, herfriend, and their two children would occupy the house. Timmer allegedly replied that heand his wife did not want children living in that house. Timmer reportedly told Beckerthat the house was unsuitable and unsafe for children.

Becker asked if she could see the house. She wanted to be the one to decide whether thehouse would be safe for her child. When Becker saw the house, she noted that it had a yardwith plenty of room for children to play and did not appear to be in a state of disrepairwhere children might be in danger.

Becker called Timmer and asked for an application to rent the house. Timmer would notgive Becker an application, allegedly again stating his desire to keep children fromliving in the house.

Investigation reveals discrimination

Becker contacted Fair Housing of Marin. A fair housing counselor advised Becker of herrights under California and federal law and began an investigation. The investigationuncovered evidence that Timmer was illegally discriminating against families withchildren.

As part of the the investigation, Fair Housing of Marin sent a pair of testers to applyto rent the house. One tester was single with two children. The other tester was marriedwith no children and would be sharing the house with an elderly parent.

Once the tester with children told Timmer that she had children, she was not allowed toview the house. Timmer gave the second tester, who claimed to have no children, anappointment to view the house and encouraged the tester to fill out a rental applicationfor the house.

Fair Housing of Marin referred Becker's case to Scott Chang, who filed suit againstTimmer in US District Court. Timmer settled the complaint, but did not admit guilt orliability.

Nancy Kenyon, Executive Director of Fair Housing of Marin, commented on the behavior oflandlords who discriminate against families with young children. "Single moms haveenough on their plate without dealing with housing discrimination," Kenyon said."Child discrimination remains a real problem in the Marin County rental market andaccounts for the largest category of housing discrimination complaints our officereceives. I commend Jennifer for taking the time and energy to pursue thiscomplaint."

Attorney says landlords should leave safety concerns to their tenants

Chang agreed with Kenyon's assessment. He said, "Housing providers need toknow that they cannot determine the appropriateness of housing for families with childrenbased on safety or any other risks associated with a particular party." Changcontinued, "The decision about whether rental property is appropriate for children isfor the prospective tenant with children."

"Single moms have enough on their plate without dealing with housingdiscrimination," said Nancy Kenyon, the executive director of Fair Housing of Marin.