PhotoThe kids are coming! 

That’s the bottom line in a settlement reached between the Justice Department (DOJ) and a California municipality and a homeowners’ association to resolve allegations of discrimination on the basis of family status.   

The DOJ lawsuit claimed that the city of Santa Rosa, CA, and 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 homeowners’ association took the steps -- such as routine age-verification -- necessary to qualify for an exemption to the Fair Housing Act. 

No enforcement 

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.   

Further, when the city, through its zoning code, permits or requires a developer or property owner to operate senior housing, it will -- among other things -- 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 also designate an agency to review and certify the biennial certifications.  

Exclusions forbidden 

The homeowners’ association also is prohibited from excluding families with children from the development unless it affirmatively elects to become an age-restricted community for those 55 or older and conforms to the requirements of the Fair Housing Act.   

The Fair Housing Act's requirements include ensuring that at least 80 percent of the occupied units are occupied by at least one person who is 55 years of age or older and that proper age verification procedures in place. 

 In addition, the homeowners’ association will provide compensatory damages to the aggrieved persons in an amount of $44,000 by providing a set-off to amounts it has claimed it is owed by the aggrieved persons.

The consent order also requires the homeowners’ association’s officers, agents and employees, as well as city employees and agents with responsibilities related to zoning and land use to receive fair housing training, and requires the homeowners’ association and the city to pay $5,000 each to the United States as a civil penalty. 

 “It is critical that families with children have opportunities to find housing,” said Thomas E. Perez, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’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 lawsuit grew out of a complaint filed with the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by the owner and representative of a portion of the condominium development that was the subject of the defendants’ enforcement actions.  

After HUD investigated the complaint, it issued a charge of discrimination and the matter was referred to the Justice Department.

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