Familial Status Discrimination – Part I: Pre-Tenancy

Author: Trina M. Clayton

Federal and California fair housing laws, most notably the Fair Housing Act (42 U.S.C. 3601, et seq.) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (Cal. Gov. Code §§ 12900, et seq.), prohibit discrimination in housing rental or conditions based on specific protected classes, such as race, sex, religion, disability, and (the subject of this blog post) familial status.

Familial status refers to any household with children under the age of 18.  It applies whether the minor is a biological child, adopted, a foster child, or legally under the custody or guardianship of an adult tenant.  It applies to both traditional and non-traditional families.  It also applies to pregnant women, as well as families that are in the process of securing legal custody of children through adoption, foster care, or divorce.  It is illegal to discriminate against a prospective or current tenant because there is a child, or will be a child, in the home.

It is important to understand that familial status discrimination may occur at any stage of property rental.  This blog will explore some of the pitfalls a landlord might run into, during the pre-tenancy period.


If you are a landlord, you might find yourself in violation of fair housing laws even just based on advertising for your available units.  When advertising for your property, you should try to describe property attributes and/or amenities, not what you are (or are not) looking for in a resident. If you promote your unit or complex as a “quiet” or an “adult” community, “perfect for singles,” or “ideal for a student,” you could be sending the message to prospective tenants that children are not welcome.


It is important for landlords to review their rental applications and leases to ensure they do not contain overt, or inadvertent language which could be read as discriminatory to applicants with children.


Pre-tenancy interviews and screening are other areas in which landlords might find themselves inadvertently in violation of anti-discrimination laws.  Asking a potential applicant if they have children or if they are pregnant could be construed as discriminatory – a better approach is to inquire into the number of occupants (though unreasonably restrictive occupancy limits can also be discriminatory).  Other statements such as “there are no other kids here” or “there is no place for children to play” are also considered discriminatory.

It is imperative a landlord abide by federal, state and local laws regarding Fair Housing.  For specific legal advice on familial status or other types of housing discrimination, please contact Ad Astra for guidance.

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