A Vermont landlord has been charged with housing discrimination after rejecting an applicant with small children.
According to the complaint lodged with the Vermont Human Rights Commission, which reviewed a voicemail message and a recorded phone conversation, the landlord made 14 statements that the Commission concluded were direct evidence of discrimination.
Those statements, which are paraphrased here, include:
The unit is not suitable for little children;
The landlord’s grandchildren trash her unit when they visit;
The balcony is not safe for children;
A three-year-old will drop food on the carpet;
Kids might climb and fall;
The landlord does not want to take on that responsibility;
The landlord would prefer renting to one person or two without children because of wear and tear on the unit and furnishings;
The unit will get overused with a family;
The landlord prefers a single person; and,
The landlord would need to ask other landlords who have rented to children what they say about it.
The landlord’s attorney defended her actions by arguing that the landlord was not aware that refusing to rent to families with children was illegal, her health limited her ability to accommodate children, she feared for the children’s safety because she was aware of a similar death caused by a fall, and she had seen other rental ads where landlords had stated a preference for no children.
A settlement regarding damages has not yet been reached.
While landlords may have differing views on whether children pose a greater risk or cause more damage than adults, the issue is not open for debate. A landlord cannot reject an applicant because there are children in the household. This case was charged under state law, however a federal prosecution under the Fair Housing Act likely would have resulted in the same outcome.
Landlords should take note that state anti-discrimination statutes may be more restrictive than the Fair Housing Act. For instance, several states now have protections for source of income discrimination, as well as sexual orientation and gender discrimination.
The landlord’s central mistake was failing to focus on tenant qualifications when screening tenants. That can result in turning away the most suitable prospects. For instance, in this case, the rejected applicant chose the apartment due to proximity to work and a preferred school district, positive factors for tenant retention.
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Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is not intended to be construed as legal advice, nor should it be considered a substitute for obtaining individual legal counsel or consulting your local, state, federal or provincial tenancy laws.