Fair Housing Settlement Serves as Warning Against Familial Status Discrimination

by Melanie Nathan, Dec 13, 2011

I have been a Vice President and proud board member of Fair Housing of Marin for the past eight  years. The work of FHOM extends to other Bay Area Counties, including Sonoma County.  Here is a story, one of many such matters, most of which go unreported. In this instance we have a brave Plaintiff willing to go on the record. This should serve as a warning to anyone who wants to rent out their property; you cannot break the law and get away with it!

Here is a story:-

In the spring of 2010, Ms. Hernandez, a young woman living in Sonoma County, phoned Kelley Rentals to inquire about renting a four-bedroom, single-family home in Santa Rosa. Ms. Hernandez was searching for a home for her family of six, including two young children. She found an advertisement on Craigslist.com for a property that seemed to meet all of her family’s goals: plenty of bedrooms, a large backyard, an affordable price, and a convenient location. Ms. Hernandez drove past the property, confirmed that it would be a good fit for her family, and called to inquire about availability. While on the phone, an agent at Kelley Rentals overheard Ms. Hernandez’s young niece in the background and inquired whether children would be living with her. When Ms. Hernandez told the rental agent that her family included children, the agent responded that the owner did not want children living on the property because he did not think the house was safe for families with children.

Ms. Hernandez contacted Fair Housing of Marin (FHOM), concerned that she and her family had been the victims of familial status discrimination.

FHOM conducted a test of the property for discrimination against children. FHOM’s test results showed clear evidence of discrimination. The rental agent told the tester with a child that the property was unsafe for children, and that she would  have to check with the owner before she could accept an application.

Further, the agent attempted to discourage the tester with a child by telling the tester the frontage road was very busy, deflecting questions about rental terms and conditions with references to the rental company’s website, and failing to return the tester’s phone calls. In stark contrast, the tester without a child was told the home had a quieter back entrance, and was not informed of any limitations on his ability to rent.

The Hernandez family and Fair Housing of Marin subsequently filed a federal lawsuit, alleging familial status discrimination in violation of the Fair Housing Amendments Act.  With legal representation by Scott Chang of Relman, Dane & Colfax PLLC and Jessica Sparks of Fair Housing of Marin, the Hernandez family and FHOM reached a settlement with Kelley Rentals and the owner of the property, which included payment of $49,000 to the plaintiffs.

 When asked about the settlement, Ms. Hernandez said   “We’re really happy that we had someone to help us when we ran into this problem, and Fair Housing of Marin responded right away.  We hope that other housing providers will learn from this that they can’t discriminate against families with children.”

 “It is hard enough to find housing in the North Bay,” said Nancy Kenyon, Executive Director of Fair Housing of Marin.  “Discrimination can cut the number of units available to families dramatically.  I am proud of the Hernandez family for taking a stand on behalf of all families.

 About Fair Housing of Marin

Fair Housing of Marin provides counseling, investigative services, mediation, and legal or administrative referrals to persons experiencing housing discrimination.  Services are offered in both English and Spanish at no charge.  Fair Housing of Marin also offers advice and seminars that help providers in the housing industry to fully understand fair housing laws. For more information about this nonprofit organization, visit www.fairhousingmarin.com.

Please consider providing donations for end of year gifting. FHOM covers LGBT discrimination, racial discrimination and Disability issues too.  Its a great organization that has an impact nationally as well as locally.


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