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Landlord Refuses to Rent to a Woman with Children

I recently read the most appalling article where HUD brought charges to the owner of a five-unit apartment building in Lebanon, NH, for violating the Fair Housing Act because the landlord allegedly refused to rent one of the units to a family with children. HUD is pursuing these charges on behalf of a mother with two children, who alleged that the owner, Robert Gerow, dared her to “turn him in” when she protested that his refusal to rent to children was unlawful.

Further charges were brought when HUD also uncovered that the owner’s receptionist violated the Fair Housing Act when she, following the owner’s instructions, told potential renters and the mother of two that the owner did not want to rent to families with children.

According to HUD’S “It’s your Right!” The Fair Housing Act makes it illegal to refuse to rent to families with children.  HUD has made it explicitly clear that if you discriminate they will hold you accountable to the fullest extent of the law.

The owner/landlord, Robert Gerow placed an ad in the West Lebanon’s Valley News seeking a renter for a two-bedroom apartment above his chiropractic office.  Gerow allegedly instructed his receptionist to tell callers he did not want children in the apartment.

Not convinced this was a sound statement for the receptionist to make, she followed up by calling the landlord directly and spoke to Gerow, where he reiterated the restriction.  When the mother told him that his restriction was against the law, Gerow challenged her to “turn him in” and hung up.

What happens now:  The HUD charge will be heard by a United States Administrative Law Judge unless any party to the charge elects to have the case heard in federal district court. If an administrative law judge finds after a hearing that discrimination has occurred, he may award damages to aggrieved persons for the damages caused them by the discrimination.

The judge may also order injunctive relief and other equitable relief to deter further discrimination, as well as payment of attorney fees. In addition, the judge may impose fines in order to vindicate the public interest. If the matter is decided in federal court, the judge may also award punitive damages to aggrieved persons.

Here is a prime example taken right from the TRACS Discussion Forum:

“We have a straight Section 8 senior property (62 and older) where a grandparent is going to get custody of their grandchild due to legal issues the parents of the child are facing. Is there anywhere in the Handbook that states that the child can/cannot live at the property?”

Referencing the HUD Handbook 4350.3 Paragraph 3-23-D:

D.   Prohibition of Occupancy Standards that Exclude Children

1. The Fair Housing Act prohibits housing providers from discriminating on the basis of familial status, making it illegal to discriminate against families because of the presence of children.

2. Owners may neither exclude families with children from their properties, nor may they develop policies or procedures that have the purpose or effect of prohibiting children (e.g., policies in tenant selection plan, occupancy standards, house rules).

3.   Owners may not exclude otherwise eligible elderly families with children from elderly properties or elderly/disabled properties covered by this handbook.

These kinds of stories really turn my stomach.  This landlord will hopefully feel the weight of this lawsuit and learn a good hard lesson.  Is this guy the first person to have made this error…nope, and unfortunately he won’t be the last.   As we all should know, discrimination is not just limited to the subsidized affordable housing industry.  It permeates our country…however I would like to believe that it is getting better.

FHEO and its partners in the Fair Housing Assistance Program investigate more than 10,000 housing discrimination complaints annually. People who believe they are the victims of housing discrimination should contact HUD at 1-800-669-9777 (voice), 800-927-9275 (TTY).