Imagine this, you are watching your five-year old son playing in the grass located directly in front of your townhouse when security for your HOA informs you that your son can play in the street or back alley – but not on the grass. You then receive a violation letter informing you that children are not permitted to play in the common areas. As KVVU Las Vegas reported, that’s exactly what happened to Ramona Sjogren.
Okay – is this story a joke? Did this HOA really have an employee tell a resident to have her five-year old play in the streets and alleys instead of the common areas? Has this HOA considered the potential liability associated with kids in the community getting hit by a car backing out of a garage or driving down a street? What kind of insurance coverage is the association carrying? Do you think this HOA has ever heard of the Federal Fair Housing Act?
Unfortunately, stories like this one crop up from time to time in the HOA world. While there’s no question that everyone wants the common areas in their associations to be well maintained and attractive, the issue in this case is whether the rule prohibiting children from using the common areas violates the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”).
The FHA prohibits discrimination based upon “familial status” which in part forbids rules that unreasonably single out children. In this case, the courts would examine whether adults are also similarly restricted from using the common areas. If the rule is limited to children playing in the common areas, there’s little doubt that a court would find that the rule discriminates against children and violates the FHA.
While most HOAs do not prohibit children from playing in common areas, they can get into trouble when restricting access to community facilities like a clubhouse or swimming pool. Rules that only permit children to access “family pools” and prohibit them from playing in and around “adult areas” of the community can be violations of the FHA. If your association is considering the implementation of such rules, we recommend that you first consult with legal counsel to determine whether these proposed rules would violate state or federal law.