A federal appeals court in Ohio agreed with AARP that a “bachelor pad” ad may have violated federal housing law by discriminating against families – including households where grandparents are raising grandchildren.
In seeking to rent its apartments, the Connor Group, Inc. posted advertisements on Craigslist in the Dayton, Ohio area stating “Great Bachelor Pad!...Our one bedroom apartments are a great bachelor pad for any single man looking to hook up.” The Miami Valley Fair Housing Center (MVFHC), a nonprofit organization promoting fair housing and seeking to eliminate housing discrimination, noticed the advertisement and objected.
Connor Group is a real estate investment group that owned and managed 15,000 rental units nationally. MVFHC filed a complaint alleging the ad violated federal and state housing law prohibiting discrimination, including discrimination based on sex and on family status. Based on jury instructions that required the jury to consider what an ordinary reader of the ad might think, a jury ruled that the ad did not violate the law.
AARP Foundation Litigation attorneys prepared a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of AARP and nine other national and Ohio organizations, pointing out that the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) has long prohibited not only discriminatory action in renting or selling, but also discriminatory advertisements, including prohibitions against ads discriminating by gender or family status. AARP’s brief argues that Connor Group’s advertisement violates the clear language of the FHA, and goes against long-established caselaw and federal regulations.
Family status was included in the FHA’s protections because evidence showed families with children were having difficulties obtaining housing rentals. Housing costs represent the largest single expenditure for low-income families, often absorbing one-third of a family’s income. Home seekers facing discrimination often must spend more time and money to find an apartment and end up paying higher rents. High housing costs is becoming more dire for grandparents, as they increasingly take on the responsibility of caring for grandchildren, and this situation necessitates increased vigilance in the marketplace.
In agreement with AARP’s brief, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit unanimously ruled that the jury instructions were flawed. The standard misguided the jury by directing the jury to find properties which focus on the suitability of the property to the renter to be permissible, when in fact a subset of those cases is illegally discriminatory. For example, an advertisement that reads “Great house for people who dislike children” would have satisfied the jury instructions but would also be illegally discriminatory because it would discourage renter applicants who have children. The issue returns to the lower court for retrial.
What’s at Stake
Federal fair housing law protections were carefully structured, and state housing laws in many states mirror those protections and enhance them. Housing is a significant issue for low-income families, which are often headed by older grandparents. Moreover, if a major landlord can flout the law, compliance by smaller renters is hard to enforce.
Miami Valley Fair Housing Center v. Connor Group was decided by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit and now returns to the District Court for the Southern District of Ohio.