The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has announced an agreement with a California municipality and a homeowners association (HOA) to resolve allegations of discrimination on the basis of familial status in violation of the Fair Housing Act.
The department's lawsuit – which was filed on Nov. 21, 2011 – alleged that the city of Santa Rosa, Calif., and the La Esplanada Unit 1 Owners Association unlawfully sought to restrict residency at a housing development to seniors aged 55 and older. While the law allows an exemption for senior housing, the suit alleged that neither the city nor the HOA took the steps, such as routine age-verification, necessary to qualify for an exemption to the Fair Housing Act.
Under the terms of the consent order, the city of Santa Rosa will not take any enforcement action against the housing development to force it to exclude families with children, and will waive the estimated $12,500 in costs associated with any zoning changes that may be necessary to bring the city's regulation of the property into compliance with federal law. When the city permits or requires a developer or property owner to operate senior housing, it will be required to designate the age restriction of the zoned property in its ordinances and zoning maps and require that property owners for these developments submit biennial age verifications for the city's review and certification. The city will designate an agency to review and certify the biennial certifications.Â Â
Furthermore, the HOA is prohibited from excluding families with children from the development unless it affirmatively elects to become an age-restricted community for persons 55 years of age or older and conforms to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act. The HOA will also provide compensatory damages to the aggrieved persons in the amount of $44,000 by providing a set-off to amounts it has claimed it is owed by the aggrieved persons.
‘It is critical that families with children have opportunities to find housing,’ says Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the DOJ's Civil Rights Division. ‘We are pleased to achieve a resolution in this case that balances the housing rights of families against the ability of a municipality and community to maintain senior housing.’
The settlement, in the form of a consent order, must be approved by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.