Enforcing Community Rules Without Running Afoul of the FHA

Unfortunately for community association managers, there are some common fair housing problems that can arise from community rules. To avoid them, make sure you understand where you might go wrong. In general, community rules trigger fair housing problems in one of two ways—either the rules are enforced unfairly or the rules themselves are unfair.

The first relates to consistency. Communities face potential liability if members of a protected class are singled out for strict enforcement of the rules, while enforcement against others is lax. For example, it would be unlawful to come down hard on African-American residents for breaking the rules while ignoring similar infractions by white residents.

The second relates to the fairness of the rules themselves. For example, communities have legitimate reasons to govern resident behavior in common areas, such as hallways, parking lots, and outside spaces, but rules that unreasonably target children or limit their behavior in common areas could lead to a complaint of discrimination based on familial status.

The federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) bans discrimination in housing because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. And many state and local governments have expanded their fair housing or civil rights laws to include marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, source of income, age, ancestry, military status, and other characteristics. Check with your local fair housing council or attorney to find out what your local laws cover.


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