On September 14, 2020, the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina (LANC), the Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana (FHCCI), the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan (FHCWM), and the Lexington Fair Housing Council announced a conciliation agreement with Pierce Education Properties to expand fair housing opportunities for families with children. Pierce Education Properties manages a portfolio of 27 student housing complexes, encompassing approximately 5,715 individual units across 18 states. The agreement will open up access for families with children to over 12,830 rentable bedroom units across the United States, including approximately 288 units in North Carolina.
The agreement resolves a fair housing complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD) in December 2019 alleging violations of fair housing laws against families with children. The 2019 complaint alleged an ongoing pattern of discrimination through the Respondents’ enforcement of a one person per bedroom policy regardless of the size of the bedroom, local occupancy code, or HUD issued guidance. The fair housing groups conducted a joint investigation across several states regarding the Respondents’ policies and how they were marketed and maintained. The investigation found that a single student with a child as young as one year old would be required to rent an extra bedroom instead of sharing with his/her child. The investigation also uncovered that a married student couple with a child could not rent a two-bedroom unit under the Respondents’ then policies.
HUD did not make a determination as to the validity of the allegations, and Pierce Education Properties denied the allegations and admitted no wrongdoing but agreed to settle the claims by entering into a Conciliation Agreement with HUD and the private fair housing groups. In order to settle the complaint, Pierce Education Properties agreed to pay $50,000; change their occupancy policy to provide equal housing opportunity to families with children; revise their marketing materials to be inclusive of all students regardless of familial status, age, disability, and other protected classes under fair housing law; and train their employees and managers across the nation on fair housing, among other terms to ensure compliance with fair housing laws.
Finding a decent, affordable place to live can be extremely challenging for students. Those with children face added barriers in locating housing near campuses that will rent to them with their child or children. A recent report by the National Fair Housing Alliance found that 11.15% of the filed complaints with HUD involved discrimination against families with children. In North Carolina, based on a report completed by the Fair Housing Project, from 2000-2018, approximately 14.2% of filed complaints with HUD involved discrimination against families with children.
Jeff Dillman, Co-Director of the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, stated, “Throughout the country, families with children face great difficulty finding safe, affordable housing. Overly-restrictive occupancy policies can unlawfully deny them housing they are otherwise qualified for, and the current pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. We hope that Pierce Educational Properties’ new policies will serve as a model for other housing providers to ensure that they provide families with children an equal opportunity to housing.”
The fair housing groups were represented in this enforcement action by Relman Colfax PLLC attorneys Jia Cobb and Kali Schellenberg, and paralegal Charlotte Saltzman.
More from this Newsletter Issue: Fall 2020
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