Who's Protected Against Familial Status Discrimination?

As a landlord, you may not understand what is expected of you when it comes to renting out your property to families with children. This is a protected status according to the federal housing discrimination laws. The FHA (Federal Housing Act) protects tenants from being discriminated against based on several protected classes that include familial status. The importance of this is that you cannot refuse to rent to a tenant just because they have kids. You also cannot treat them any different as you’ll be violating federal law.
In your quest to build a real estate empire, it is in your best interest as a property owner not to run afoul of the law. Below is an overview of who the FHA ban on familial status discrimination protects and how it can affect your property.

The Type of Families Protected By the FHA


  • Non-biological Parents

The FHA prohibits landlords from discriminating against families with children even if they’re living with their non-biological parents. Whether the child lives with their step parent, grandparent, foster parent, biological parent, or any person of adult age who holds legal custody, then they are protected by the FHA. There are usually cases where a child lives with someone designated by the legal custodian or parent. Even then, the “familial status” rule does apply.

  • Marital Status

The marital status of the tenant does not come into play under the “familial status” rule. It makes no difference whether the adults in the family are single, divorced, married, separated, or widowed as far as the FHA is concerned. For example, a child with a single parent is treated the same as a married couple with four children.

  • Age

For a tenant to benefit from the familial status provisions of the FHA, the children are required to be under the age of 18. A tenant living with their adult children is not protected under the law. There should be at least one member of the family under 18 years old. For example, if a tenant is looking for a house with their 18-year-old son, then they don’t fall under the protected class of tenants. If the child is 17, then they will only enjoy the privilege for a year and lose it immediately once the child turns 18.

  • Adopted and Unborn Children

It is not mandatory that the child be a part of the household at the time the family is making an application for tenancy. If the parents are expecting a child to become part of the household, then by all means they are protected from familial status discrimination. As a landlord, you are not allowed to discriminate against tenants if they are pregnant or looking to adopt a child.

Does Having Children Guarantee Protection of a Family?

Sometimes, the FHA allows landlords to reject applicants or treat them differently even when they have children under the age of 18. There are two scenarios when this is allowed. Let’s go over them below

  • Senior Housing

To allow landlords to rent their apartments to seniors, the FHA has made exemptions to the familial status discrimination rule. This enables you to restrict tenancy of part or all your apartments to people of a certain age by turning away families with children. However, you must do it according to the provisions of the FHA.

  • Safety and Health Concerns

Granted, the FHA does bar discrimination on the basis of familial status. However, you are allowed to single out families with children in your lease agreement or house rules if the goal is to keep them out of harm’s way. For example, a rule denying children access to the swimming pool in your property is a violation of the FHA rules. However, requiring children under a certain age to have adult supervision every time they access the pool would be perfectly legal.

How Do Familial Status Discrimination Cases End Up in Court and What are the Consequences?

A prospective or existing tenant can sue you in a state or federal court for discriminatory conduct within two years of the alleged violation. Their attorney will prepare a complaint and ask the court for an expedited hearing in the hope that the court will direct the landlord to cease the discriminatory action without a formal hearing.

Penalties for Familial Status Discrimination

Once a housing agency or court determines that there was discrimination in your dealings with the applicant, then you may be ordered to do one of the following:

  • Rent out the property to the applicant.
  • Pay damages to the complainant. This could include additional rent they had to pay elsewhere when you turned them down.
  • Pay compensation for damages incurred by the applicant. This may be for emotional distress or humiliation.
  • Pay the state-federal government a civil penalty of up to $16,000 for a first-time violation.
  • If the discrimination is considered outrageous, you may be forced to fork out punitive damages as well as the applicant’s attorney fees.

Bottom Line

You can save thousands of dollars and time by having a lawyer by your side to help set up the right rental policies and rules. Contact us to understand the value of having an attorney on board in your real estate business.

Last Updated: 
May 14, 2018

Scott Royal Smith is an asset protection attorney and long-time real estate investor. He's on a mission to help fellow investors free their time, protect their assets, and create lasting wealth.

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