Age - A Federally Protected Class? - The Fair Housing Institute, Inc.

Age – A Federally Protected Class?

While the Fair Housing Act does not enumerate age as a federally protected class, the ramifications of age-related policies and practices stretch far beyond this initial oversight, weaving a dense tapestry of legal obligations and ethical considerations.

This landscape demands vigilance and a proactive approach from those tasked with navigating it, challenging them to reconcile the absence of age at the federal level with its significant presence in state and local jurisdictions. Here, the paradox of age discrimination in housing unfolds—a realm where legal clarity is sought amid a maze of regulations, each layer revealing more about the multifaceted nature of fairness and equity in the housing sector.

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

The Federal Perspective on Age

At the federal level, the Fair Housing Act does not include age as a protected class. This means that broadly speaking, federal law does not prohibit discrimination based on age in housing. However, this does not fully encapsulate the legal landscape. Property managers must be aware that many states and local jurisdictions have enacted their own laws that include age as a protected category. This variation requires a nuanced approach to property management, ensuring that practices are not only compliant with federal law but also with the specific regulations of the state or locality in which a property is located.

Moreover, for properties that receive federal funding, an additional layer of complexity is introduced. Separate legislation exists that prohibits discrimination based on age in federally funded housing, underscoring the need for property managers to maintain a comprehensive understanding of the laws affecting their properties.

The Intersection of Age and Other Protected Classes

The implications of age within property management become particularly intricate when considering its interaction with other protected classes under the FHA. For example, familial status is a federally protected class, and actions or policies that disproportionately affect families with children may inadvertently run afoul of the FHA. A hypothetical scenario where a property manager expresses a preference for “more established residents,” potentially signaling an aversion to younger families, could be construed as illegal steering. Such practices, even if unintentionally discriminatory, could have legal repercussions.

For communities that are legally permitted to restrict or discourage families with children, strict compliance with the FHA is required. These properties must meet specific criteria to qualify as housing for older persons, including clear advertisement of this status. Without such designation, any attempt to steer certain demographics toward or away from the property could be deemed illegal.

Navigating State and Local Laws

Given the absence of age as a federally protected class, the responsibility falls to property managers to understand and adhere to state and local regulations that may define age differently. The definition of who is protected under age-related provisions can vary significantly, with some jurisdictions protecting individuals over 18 while others set the threshold at 40 or 55 years of age. This variance necessitates a proactive approach by property managers to seek legal counsel and ensure that their policies do not inadvertently discriminate against protected age groups within their jurisdiction.

Key Takeaways

For property managers, the challenge of navigating the Fair Housing Act and related laws is compounded by the complexities surrounding age. While not a federally protected class, the implications of age discrimination and its interaction with other protected classes require a vigilant and informed approach to property management. Understanding the nuances of federal, state, and local laws is not merely a matter of compliance but a commitment to fairness and equity in housing. As the landscape of fair housing continues to evolve, so too must the strategies employed by property managers to navigate these legal waters effectively.

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