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Legally speaking: Does a “per bedroom” policy discriminate against children?

By Peg Ritenour, OAR Vice President of Legal Services/Administration

The OAR Legal Assistance Hotline receives an array of real estate-related legal questions — including license law issues, disclosure, contract law, ethics and commission problems, among others. In an effort to help you work within the law, our “Legally Speaking” series spotlights some of the timely questions that are being asked by REALTORS. This one involves a recent fair housing inquiry…

Q:  I am leasing a three bedroom house for an owner. A couple with four children — three boys and girl — looked at the house and are financially qualified to lease the property. However the property owner has a policy of only allowing two persons per bedroom and therefore won’t allow the three boys to share a room. Alternatively, the parents mentioned that their daughter may share a bedroom with one of their sons. The landlord doesn’t believe that arrangement is appropriate given the children’s ages. Does the landlord have to allow this or make an exception and permit the three boys to share a bedroom to avoid a fair housing violation?

A: Both Ohio and federal fair housing laws prohibit housing discrimination against families with children While a landlord can place reasonable restrictions on the number of occupants that will be permitted in a unit, such a policy must be reasonable and cannot be based on the fact that some of the occupants are children.

Although the fair housing laws do not mandate an occupancy standard, a “two person per bedroom” is a commonly used rule of thumb. However this is not always a hard and fast rule. To determine whether such a policy is reasonable and non-discriminatory against families with children, a court would consider a variety of factors. Among these would be whether the landlord’s policy is based on a local ordinance restricting occupancy levels that is designed to address health and safety issues. Also significant may be the square footage, the size of the bedrooms, etc.

Therefore as to whether the landlord in this case could refuse to allow the three boys to share a bedroom based on his “two person per bedroom” rule, the answer would depend on a various factors, including local occupancy ordinances, the reasonableness of the landlord’s policy, whether this policy is consistently applied regardless of the fact that some of the intended occupants are children, the size of the bedrooms, etc.

As to the question involving the possibility that one of the boys may share a bedroom with his sister, the landlord should not refuse to rent to this family based on this fact. Such an arrangement is the decision of the parents, not the landlord, and imposing such a rule could be considered a fair housing violation.

Tags: legal, Legally Speaking