Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan settles familial status discrimination suit

The Fair Housing Center of Southwest Michigan has agreed to settle a fair housing lawsuit based on familial status discrimination.

In 2009, the Fair Housing Center, a private non-profit dedicated to ending housing discrimination, received a call from a young couple who alleged that they had been turned away from an opportunity to rent in Berrien County because they had a young child and were pregnant with child #2.  As a result, the Fair Housing Center conducted an investigation into the rental practices of the owner of the apartment complex which they believe revealed a pattern and practice of denying housing to families with children.  In 2011, the Fair Housing Center, along with individuals Tammy Ketchum and Nathaniel Lovely filed a lawsuit under federal and state fair housing laws against the owner alleging that the owner enforced an illegal occupancy policy that prevented families with two children from living in a two bedroom apartment.  The lawsuit also alleged that the owner enforced an unlawful policy prohibiting children under the age of 12 from living in upper level apartments with balconies.  The Fair Housing Center and the individuals were represented by Jay Yelton, Kurt McCamman and Kendra Huff from the law firm of Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, PLC.

The parties have entered a settlement agreement which requires the apartment owner to change the occupancy policy to permit a family of four to live in a two bedroom apartment and to discontinue the policy prohibiting children from living in upper level apartments with balconies.  Other terms of the settlement include annual fair housing training for all employees, on-site monitoring by the Fair Housing Center, implementation of a nondiscrimination policy and effective communication of that policy to all current and potential tenants.  The agreement also requires the apartment owner to include the phrase “Families Welcome” in at least 50% of their advertisements. The agreement is subject to federal court enforcement for a minimum period of two years. The owner has also agreed to pay monetary damages of $38,000.

 The federal Fair Housing Act gives everyone the right to live where they choose. Familial status, along with race, color, national origin, disability, sex and religion are federally protected classes.  The State of Michigan also protects against discrimination based on age and marital status.