By Jonathan H. Katz, Esq.

On March 20, 2015, the Department of Justice announced that they had reached an agreement with Greenbrier Village Homeowner’s Association Inc. in Minnetonka, Minnesota. The agreement resolved a November 2013 lawsuit that alleged that the Association unlawfully discriminated against residents with children by enforcing rules prohibiting the use of common areas within the Association. As part of that settlement, the Association agreed to establish a new non-discrimination policy in accordance with the Fair Housing Act and to pay over $100,000 in penalties.

According to the Consent Order and other documents filed with the Court, the Association allegedly engaged in a pattern of discrimination by creating and enforcing rules that prevented children from equal enjoyment of common areas. Specifically, it was alleged that the Association enacted rules banning playing, picnicking and sunbathing on lawns, sidewalks, and landscaped areas. It also banned the use of bicycles, tricycles, scooters, skates, skateboards, and more.These rules also allegedly required children to be supervised at all times when in a common area and selectively enforced the common area rules by issuing warnings and violation notices to residents with children, but not to adult residents engaging in the same activities.

At least six families suffered as a result of the Association’s alleged discrimination, leading to the lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division. As part of the settlement, the Association will adopt and implement a new anti-discrimination policy and provide financial compensation to each of these families, totaling $100,000, along with a separate civil penalty of $10,000 to the United States.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 makes it unlawful for housing providers, including community associations, to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment), and national origin. The Act was amended in 1988 to also prohibit discrimination based on familial status and disability. The most common way that community associations may discriminate based on familial status is by denying children equal use of the common areas – such as the swimming pool, clubhouse, gym or other amenities – through a rule or restriction. In order to prevent against any possible discrimination, community associations should consult with the association’s counsel prior to adopting any rules or restrictions that could be construed as discriminatory in nature.

You can read the Department of Justice’s News Release on this case here.

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