A community associations pools typically have prominently displayed pool rules. Beyond the typical “no diving” or “no glass container” rules, we also often see rules prohibiting children under the eighteen (18) from swimming without an adult supervision. Although these rules may have been enacted from a risk management standpoint, they must also be considered against the framework of the Fair Housing Act.
The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits discrimination against persons on the basis of their “familial status.” The FHA is applicable to both condominium and homeowners’ associations. The FHA makes it illegal to discriminate against any person “in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin….” Therefore, any rule that discriminates on the basis of whether or not a household has children violates the FHA. Several lawsuits have tested swimming pool rules on the basis that they discriminate against families with children. Some of these cases have held that rules requiring adult supervision violate the FHA.
Recently, in the Stonebrier Homeowner’s Association, north of Tampa, the Florida Commission on Human Relations who investigates FHA complaints in Florida, found reasonable cause to believe a discriminatory housing practice occurred. The homeowners’ association had rules prohibiting children under the age of 16 from using the pool without adult supervision. A family with five children living in the community dropped off four of their children, who were good swimmers, and law enforcement was called since an adult was not present.
Thereafter, the homeowners association implemented a rule whereby any resident wishing to use the pool would need an amenity card. In order to obtain the amenity card, the resident needed to show a driver’s license or Florida identification card. One of the family’s sons, once he turned 16, was still denied an amenity card and access to the pool since he only provided a letter from his mother instead of a state issued ID showing residency.
After hiring an attorney to compel the homeowners association to change its rules, to no avail, the family filed a complaint with the Florida Commission on Human Relations (“FCHR”). After FCHR found reasonable cause that a discriminatory practice occurred, the homeowners association changed its rules to allow parents to sign an affidavit to swear to a child’s residency and age. That was too little too late.
The office of Attorney General Pam Bondi filed a discrimination lawsuit against the homeowners association and alleged “overly-restrictive pool rules” for families with children. The civil suit is seeking a declaratory judgment that the actions of the homeowners association violate the FHA, as well as injunctive relief and unspecified compensatory damages.
The FHA creates dangerous waters for community associations. Review your pool, clubhouse, recreation room, exercise room, and common area rules with your association’s legal counsel to ensure they are in compliance with fair housing laws.