HUD Issues Fair Housing Charge Against Wyoming Property Owner, Management Agent, and Onsite Manager for Familial Status Violation

On September 9, 2020, the Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) charged the owners and managers of an apartment community in Cheyenne, Wyoming with violation of the familial status provisions of the Fair Housing Act (FHA). This case is particularly interesting in how it deals with the use of community facilities and supervision rules relating to children.

The Case

HUD & Complainants v. Tralee Prairie View, LLC, RAM Partners, LLC, and Pam Gunnarson (Respondents)

Facts of the Case

  1. On November 2, 2017, a couple with four minor children (complainant) filed a complaint with HUD alleging that the respondents imposed discriminatory terms, conditions, or privileges and limited services or facilities in connection with a rental; printed a notice that indicated a preference, limitation or discrimination; and otherwise made housing unavailable to them because of their familial status in violation of the FHA.
  2. In June 2017, the children consisted of a one-year-old infant, and a six-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a nine-year-old.
  3. On or around June 5, 2017, Respondents posted a newsletter on the doors of all tenants, that read in part, “PLEASE SUPERVISE YOUR CHILDREN WHEN THEY ARE OUTSIDE – We are having way too many complaints about kids on bikes driving in front of cars in the parking lot and have notice [sic] that most of these children do not have helmets.” [emphasis was in the original].
  4. On June 26, 2017, Respondents issued new rules at the property. The rules were posted on tenant doors and stated in part –
    1. Due to the NUMEROUS complaints, we have received regarding unsupervised children disrupting the peace of the community at all hours of the day and night these rules will be going into effect IMMEDIATELY:
      1. Children 12 and under must be supervised by an adult while outside.
      1. The playground area and field with the basketball hoop are the ONLY designated play areas – there will be no more playing or hanging out behind the building, entryways/stairwells, in parking lots, or the dog park.
      1. Curfew is 9 PM – children should not be left outside unattended after hours.
      1. Excessive noise will not be tolerated.
    1. If you are a resident who is being disturbed due to any of these abovementioned issues please do not hesitate to relay any information to the office. If behavior continues LEASE VIOLATIONS AND POSSIBLE EVICTIONS will be delivered. [emphasis was in the original].
  5. The site manager authored the Community Notice with help from the assistant property manager and issued the rules to everyone at the subject property. The content of the Community Notice was based on the manager’s own judgment and beliefs.
  6. The site manager did not address the individual behavior of children that were the basis of the various complaints and instead issued the June 26, 2017 Community Notice.
  7. On June 23, 2017, the family had received a lease violation notice from Respondents. The notice was related to sunflower seeds left on the sidewalk near the family’s unit.
  8. The mother of the children began keeping the children inside the unit because she was unable to provide adult supervision for them outside since the father frequently worked out of town and the mother needed to be inside to care for the infant.
  9. Children were prohibited from playing anywhere aside from the two “designated play areas.” The prohibition included large grassy areas contained within the property, including the field behind the family’s apartment.
  10. Based on this prohibition, the mother could no longer supervise her older children in the open field behind her unit through the glass sliding door. She would take the older children outside to the designated play areas for short periods of time when she could bring the baby, but the children often wanted to remain outside.
  11. The complainant stated the keeping the children inside without an outlet for their energy caused the kids to become “hyperactive.”
  12. Keeping the children inside all summer caused tension within the family, and the family was compelled to move away from the property to another property where the kids could play outside.
  13. The family moved on or about August 31, 2017.
  14. The family moved to a trailer that they rented from a family friend.
  15. The trailer was not move-in ready and required the family to replace the carpet, mitigate a rodent problem, and address various maintenance issues such as fixing holes.
  16. The family had to send the children to a different school and attend a new church. The children were bullied at the new school, and the family could no longer attend church with the wife’s mother, who now attends church alone.

HUD’s position is that as a result of the respondents’ discriminatory conduct, the family suffered actual damages including, but not limited to, emotional distress, loss of housing opportunity, inconvenience, and economic loss.

HUD is asking the following from an Administrative Law Judge:

  1. A declaration that the actions of the respondent violated the Fair Housing Act;
  2. Enjoin the respondents from discriminating against any person due to familial status;
  3. Mandate that the respondents take affirmative steps to remedy the effects of the illegal, discriminatory conduct and prevent similar conduct in the future;
  4. Require respondents and their employees to attend fair housing training;
  5. Award damages to fully compensate the Complainant; and
  6. Assess a civil penalty against each respondent for each violation of the Act.

The Takeaway

This case is a cautionary tale for property managers when it comes to the type of behavior and supervisory rules that will be applied to families with children. In general, except in very unusual circumstances, “behavior” rules should be applied to all residents – not just children. “Safety” rules for children are fine (e.g., supervision at swimming pools, fitness centers, etc.). Also, rules relating to the supervision of children should be reasonable, and not penalize families with children to the extent that their children cannot reasonably play outside.