Who Qualifies for Familial Status Protection?

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If you have children or you plan to have children living with you in your apartment someday, you should be aware of a term called familial status, which protects families with children against illegal discrimination. Here's what you should know about familial status protection—and who qualifies for it under federal law.

Definition of Familiar Status

Familial status is one of a handful of protected classes under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). It prohibits landlords who might not want children living in their building to refuse to rent to families with children. 

If a landlord, leasing agent, or other housing professional attempts to limit your housing choices because you have children, you can pursue a fair housing claim against them, just as if you were discriminated against based on another protected class or characteristic, such as race, religion or disability.

How to Qualify for Familial Status Protection

To qualify for familial status protection under the FHA, you must be the child's parent, legal custodian or the "designee" of the child's parent or legal custodian, with that person's written permission. In other words, the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination broadly protects families with children without regard to whether the adults in the household are the child's biological parents.

Also, if you're the parent or legal guardian of a child and you formally designate someone (for example, the child's grandparent) to live with and care for your child, that household is covered by the FHA's protections. A guardian's marital status is irrelevant, which means you can be married, single, divorced, or widowed without it affecting your familial status protection. The key is that you have legal custody of the children who live with you.

In addition to the above, to qualify for familial status, your child must be:

  • Under 18 years old
  • Biological or adopted
  • Already a household member or expected to be one

As long as there is at least one child under 18 living in the household, familial status protections apply. So, if you're currently covered under the FHA, you'll enjoy this protection until the youngest child in your household turns 18. If the children living with you are 18 or over, they are considered adults and your household wouldn't qualify as a family with children.

You're even covered if you don't yet have children under 18 living with you, but you expect this to change soon. The FHA's familial status protections apply to tenants who are pregnant as well as tenants who are in the process of adopting a child. This is a particularly important protection for prospective tenants because it means landlords can't turn them away or require them to rent a larger apartment that's more than they can afford simply because they're expecting a child.

Familial Status and the Senior Housing Exemption

The only exception to the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination is for certain types of senior housing. Owners of qualifying senior communities across the United States may legally turn families with children away. If you plan on conducting an apartment search that will include senior communities, find out the circumstances under which children may live there, so you know what to expect.