Children & Fair Housing

How to avoid setting rental policies that unfairly target children. - Written by Angie Watson-Hajjem - Posted May 9, 2017

Children & Fair Housing

Photo: John Tornow / CC BY 2.0

Back in the 70’s there was a popular Saturday morning television program called “Kids Are People Too” that I enjoyed. The message implied by the title of this program is especially true in rental housing: children, along with their families, have a right to equal access to housing.

The Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 made it illegal to deny housing to families with children. Before 1988, housing providers throughout much of the United States could legally prohibit families with children from renting their properties. It is rare in my fair housing work at ECHO Housing that an owner or manager comes right out and tells an applicant, “Sorry, I can’t rent to you because you have a child.” However, housing providers sometimes have policies that restrict housing to families with children, or they enact rules that unfairly target children.

Unfair Policies
Families with children are sometimes the victim of a practice called “steering.” Steering happens when a housing provider has a policy where they won’t rent to families with children in certain areas of an apartment complex. Years ago, ECHO had a big steering case where the on-site manager was instructed by the property owner not to rent the front apartments to families with children. The owner wanted to have families with children rent the apartments in the back of the building. He figured that families with children, and the property as a whole, would be better off if he segregated families. This steering policy was illegal. Being told that only certain apartments were available, kids and their families were denied the opportunity to live where they choose. Sometimes, housing providers attempt to relegate families with children to just the ground floor apartments due to concerns about noise. This practice is also illegal. Managers can always deal with “bad behavior” or any nuisance from adults or children. But making the upstairs apartments off limits to children is a blatant violation of fair housing law.

Similarly, children cannot be denied the ability to enjoy the amenities that an apartment complex offers. For example, when it comes to community rules, make sure that the rules apply to everyone. For example, owners cannot set rules that say, “Children cannot ride their bikes.” The rule should be written as “Residents cannot ride their bikes.” Under the California Health and Safety code, it is legal to have a rule that states children 14 and under must have an adult with them while using the pool. However, it is not legal for managers to have pool hours for adults and pool hours for children. Both adults and children should have equal access to the use of the pool. For properties that have a gym, a manager could enact a rule similar to the pool rule which states that children under 14 must have an adult present while using the gym.

Child Supervision
One issue that frequently comes to ECHO’s attention is around the supervision and play of children. Housing providers should never have policies, either written or verbal, which prohibit children from playing outside. Playing in a parking lot or other potentially unsafe areas is never a good idea. But if there are suitable areas for children and others to socialize outside, an effort should be made to allow this to happen. Also, owner and managers cannot mandate that children must be supervised while outside. If a child is causing a nuisance outdoors, the parent or caregiver should certainly be informed. But having rules that state children can’t be outside without an adult is overly restrictive and should be avoided.

Be Mindful
There are many issues that come up around housing families with children. Housing providers need to be mindful that treating families with children differently, limiting their housing choice or having overly restrictive rules geared towards children is illegal. Remember, kids are people too and should (as well as their families) be able to live in housing free from discrimination. ECHO Housing is available to answer fair housing questions regarding children and other protected classes as well. We can be reached at 1- 855-ASK-ECHO or through our website: RH

The information contained in this article is general in nature. Consult with an attorney or professional for any specific issue. Angie Watson-Hajjem is a Fair Housing Coordinator with ECHO Housing. She can be reached at

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