Avoid Accusations of Family Discrimination

Avoid Accusations of Family Discrimination

For an association, its board of directors, or manager, there is never a good time for a lawsuit. If the association has been forced to sue a member due to chronic rule violations or unpaid assessments, it can lead to expensive and protracted litigation. And if the association is being sued, it faces those same problems. But in the case of a discrimination claim by a member, statutory fines and governmental involvement also pile on. A discrimination lawsuit additionally carries with it the potential to damage your community’s reputation.

Discrimination against families increasingly has been in the news, so it’s a good time for associations to review with board members and staff what types of behavior to avoid, and to review the community’s rules and eliminate any issues that pose a discrimination lawsuit risk.

One way to avoid discrimination claims is to make sure that your rules ban bad behavior—not children. Communities have a legitimate reason to adopt rules governing behavior in common areas such as hallways and parking lots and while using amenities such as pools and fitness centers. Such rules generally are necessary to prevent damage, protect safety, and minimize potential liability for injuries suffered by residents and guests using your community’s facilities. And rules regulating conduct in the common areas within buildings are a legitimate way to prevent disturbances that interfere with residents’ quiet enjoyment of their units.

However, you may not adopt rules that unduly interfere with the ability of families with minor children to use and enjoy the community’s facilities. Various association rules that have led to discrimination claims in the past include inexplicably limiting the number of hours that children could use the community’s pool, prohibiting children from playing alone at any time on their front lawns and park-like areas in the community, and restricting use of common areas by age for no apparent reason.

For the most part, it’s best to adopt rules that focus on dangerous or disruptive behavior in your common areas and facilities—instead of on the age of the person who engages in that behavior.

For three more tips to follow when drafting or reviewing your community’s rules with an eye on discrimination risk factors, see “Review Association Rules to Avoid Family Discrimination Lawsuit,” available to subscribers here.