DEPARTMENT OF HOUSING AND URBAN DEVELOPMENT
[Docket No. FR-4405-N-01]
Fair Housing Enforcement--Occupancy Standards Notice of Statement of Policy Office of the Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal
ACTION: Notice of statement of policy.
SUMMARY: This statement of policy advises the public of the factors that HUD will consider when evaluating a housing provider's occupancy policies to determine whether actions under the provider's policies may constitute discriminatory conduct under the Fair Housing Act on the basis of familial status (the presence of children in a family). Publication of this notice meets the requirements of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998.
DATES: Effective date: December 18, 1998.
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:
Sara Pratt, Director, Office of Investigations, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Room 5204, 451 Seventh Street, SW, Washington,DC 20410, telephone (202) 708-2290 (not a toll-free number). For hearing- and speech-impaired persons, this telephone number may be accessed via TTY (text telephone) by calling the Federal Information Relay Service at 1-800-877-8339 (toll-free).
Statutory and Regulatory Background
Section 589 of the Quality Housing and Work Responsibility Act of 1998 (Pub. L. 105-276, 112 Stat. 2461, approved October 21, 1998, ``QHWRA'') requires HUD to publish a notice in the Federal Register that advises the public of the occupancy standards that HUD uses for enforcement purposes under the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3601-3619). Section 589 requires HUD to publish this notice within 60 days of enactment of the QHWRA, and states that the notice will be effective upon publication. Specifically, section 589 states, in relevant part, that: [T]he specific and unmodified standards provided in the March 20, 1991, Memorandum from the General Counsel of [HUD] to all Regional Counsel shall be the policy of [HUD] with respect to complaints of discrimination under the Fair Housing Act . . . on the basis of familial status which involve an occupancy standard established by a housing provider.
The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in any aspect of the sale, rental, financing or advertising of dwellings on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex or familial status (the presence of children in the family). The Fair Housing Act also provides that nothing in the Act ``limits the applicability of any reasonable local, State or Federal restrictions regarding the maximum number of occupants permitted to occupy a dwelling.'' The Fair Housing Act gave HUD responsibility for implementation and enforcement of the Act's requirements. The Fair Housing Act authorizes HUD to receive complaints alleging discrimination in violation of the Act, to investigate these complaints, and to engage in efforts to resolve informally matters raised in the complaint. In cases where the complaint is not resolved, the Fair Housing Act authorizes HUD to make a determination of whether or not there is reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred. HUD's regulations, implementing the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3614) are found in 24 CFR part 100.
In 1991, HUD's General Counsel, Frank Keating, determined that some confusion existed because of the absence of more detailed guidance regarding what occupancy restrictions are reasonable under the Act. To address this confusion, General Counsel Keating issued internal guidance to HUD Regional Counsel on factors that they should consider when examining complaints filed with HUD under the Fair Housing Act, to determine whether or not there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred.
Through this notice HUD implements section 589 of the QHWRA by adopting as its policy on occupancy standards, for purposes of enforcement actions under the Fair Housing Act, the standards provided in the Memorandum of General Counsel Frank Keating to Regional Counsel dated March 20, 1991, attached as Appendix A.
Authority: 42 U.S.C. 3535(d), 112 Stat. 2461.
Dated: December 14, 1998.
Eva M. Plaza,
Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity.
March 20, 1991.
MEMORANDUM FOR: All Regional Counsel
FROM: Frank Keating, G
SUBJECT: Fair Housing Enforcement Policy: Occupancy Cases
On February 21, 1991, I issued a memorandum designed to facilitate your review of cases involving occupancy policies under the Fair Housing Act. The memorandum was based on my review of a significant number of such cases and was intended to constitute internal guidance to be used by Regional Counsel in reviewing cases involving occupancy restrictions. It was not intended to create a definitive test for whether a landlord or manager would be liable in a particular case, nor was it intended to establish occupancy policies or requirements for any particular type of housing.
However, in discussions within the Department, and with the Department of Justice and the public, it is clear that the February 21 memorandum has resulted in a significant misunderstanding of the Department's position on the question of occupancy policies which would be reasonable under the Fair Housing Act. In this respect, many people mistakenly viewed the February 21 memorandum as indicating that the Department was establishing an occupancy policy which it would consider reasonable in any fair housing case, rather than providing guidance to Regional Counsel on the evaluation of evidence in familial status cases which involve the use of an occupancy policy adopted by a housing provider.
For example, there is a HUD Handbook provision regarding the size of the unit needed for public housing tenants. See Handbook 7465.1 REV-2, Public Housing Occupancy Handbook: Admission, revised section 5-1 (issued February 12, 1991). While that Handbook provision states that HUD does not specify the number of persons who may live in public housing units of various sizes, it provides guidance about the factors public housing agencies may consider in establishing reasonable occupancy policies. Neither this memorandum nor the memorandum of February 21, 1991 overrides the guidance that Handbook provides about program requirements.
As you know, assuring Fair Housing for all is one of Secretary Kemp's top priorities. Prompt and vigorous enforcement of all the provisions of the Fair Housing Act, including the protections in the Act for families with children, is a critical responsibility of mine and every person in the Office of General Counsel. I expect Headquarters and Regional Office staff to continue their vigilant efforts to proceed to formal enforcement in all cases in which there is reasonable cause to believe that a discriminatory housing practice under the Act has occurred or is about to occur. This is particularly important in cases where occupancy restrictions are used to exclude families with children or to unreasonably limit the ability of families with children to obtain housing.
In order to assure that the Department's position in the area of occupancy policies is fully understood, I believe that it is imperative to articulate more fully the Department's position on reasonable occupancy policies and to describe the approach that the Department takes in its review of occupancy cases.
Specifically, the Department believes that an occupancy policy of two persons in a bedroom, as a general rule, is reasonable under the Fair Housing Act. The Department of Justice has advised us that this is the general policy it has incorporated in consent decrees and proposed orders, and such a general policy also is consistent with the guidance provided to housing providers in the HUD handbook referenced above. However, the reasonableness of any occupancy policy is rebuttable, and neither the February 21 memorandum nor this memorandum implies that the Department will determine compliance with the Fair Housing Act based solely on the number of people permitted in each bedroom. Indeed, as we stated in the final rule implementing the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, the Department's position is as follows:
[T]here is nothing in the legislative history which indicates any intent on the part of Congress to provide for the development of a national occupancy code. * * *
On the other hand, there is no basis to conclude that Congress intended that an owner or manager of dwellings would be unable to restrict the number of occupants who could reside in a dwelling. Thus, the Department believes that in appropriate circumstances, owners and managers may develop and implement reasonable occupancy requirements based on factors such as the number and size of sleeping areas or bedrooms and the overall size of the dwelling unit. In this regard, it must be noted that, in connection with a complaint alleging discrimination on the basis of familial status, the Department will carefully examine any such nongovernmental restriction to determine whether it operates unreasonably to limit or exclude families with children.
24 C.F.R. Chapter I, Subchapter A. Appendix I at 566-67 (1990).
Thus, in reviewing occupancy cases, HUD will consider the size and number of bedrooms and other special circumstances. The following principles and hypothetical examples should assist you in determining whether the size of the bedrooms or special circumstances would make an occupancy policy unreasonable.
Size of bedrooms and unit
Consider two theoretical situations in which a housing provider refused to permit a family of five to rent a two-bedroom dwelling based on a ``two people per bedroom'' policy. In the first, the complainants are a family of five who applied to rent an apartment with two large bedrooms and spacious living areas. In the second, the complainants are a family of five who applied to rent a mobile home space on which they planned to live in a small two-bedroom mobile home. Depending on the other facts, issuance of a charge might be warranted in the first situation, but not in the second. The size of the bedrooms also can be a factor suggesting that a determination of no reasonable cause is appropriate. For example, if a mobile home is advertised as a ``two-bedroom'' home, but one bedroom is extremely small, depending on all the facts, it could be reasonable for the park manager to limit occupancy of the home of two people.
Age of children
The following hypotheticals involving two housing providers who refused to permit three people to share a bedroom illustrate this principle. In the first, the complainants are two adult parents who applied to rent a one-bedroom apartment with their infant child, and both the bedroom and the apartment were large. In the second, the complainants are a family of two adult parents and one teenager who applied to rent a one-bedroom apartment. Depending on the other facts, issuance of a charge might be warranted in the first hypothetical, but not in the second.
Configuration of unit
The following imaginary situations illustrate special circumstances involving unit configuration. Two condominium associations each reject a purchase by a family of two adults and three children based on a rule limiting sales to buyers who satisfy a ``two people per bedroom'' occupancy policy. The first association manages a building in which the family of the five sought to purchase a unit consisting of two bedrooms plus a den or study. The second manages a building in which the family of five sought to purchase a two-bedroom unit which did not have a study or den. Depending on the other facts, a charge might be warranted in the first situation, but not in the second.
Other physical limitations of housing
In addition to physical considerations such as the size of each bedroom and the overall size and configuration of the dwelling, the Department will consider limiting factors identified by housing providers, such as the capacity of the septic, sewer, or other building systems.
State and local law
If a dwelling is governed by State or local governmental occupancy requirements, and the housing provider's occupancy policies reflect those requirements, HUD would consider the governmental requirements as a special circumstance tending to indicate that the housing provider's occupancy policies are reasonable.
Other relevant factors
Other relevant factors supporting a reasonable cause recommendation based on the conclusion that the occupancy policies are pretextual would include evidence that the housing provider has: (1) made discriminatory statements; (2) adopted discriminatory rules governing the use of common facilities; (3) taken other steps to discourage families with children from living in its housing; or (4) enforced its occupancy policies only against families with children. For example, the fact that a development was previously marketed as an ``adults only'' development would militate in favor of issuing a charge. This is an especially strong factor if there is other evidence suggesting that the occupancy policies are a pretext for excluding families with children.
An occupancy policy which limits the number of children per unit is less likely to be reasonable than one which limits the number of people per unit.
Special circumstances also may be found where the housing provider limits the total number of dwellings he or she is willing to rent to families with children. For example, assume a landlord owns a building of two-bedroom units, in which a policy of four people per unit is reasonable. If the landlord adopts a four person per unit policy, but refuses to rent to a family of two adults and two children because twenty of the thirty units already are occupied by families with children, a reasonable cause recommendation would be warranted.
If your review of the evidence indicates that these or other special circumstances are present, making application of a ``two people per bedroom'' policy unreasonably restrictive, you should prepare a reasonable cause determination. The Executive Summary should explain the special circumstances which support your recommendation.
[FR Doc. 98-33568 Filed 12-17-98; 8:45 am]