If you are tenant that has children or you are pregnant and expecting a child, you may be wondering whether a landlord has the right to evict you for having children.
It’s a legitimate question, especially if your lease does not address the issue or is unclear about the requirements.
In this article, I am going to answer this question. I’ll cover the legal landscape around children and evictions in general and go step by step on how you can analyze your specific situation. I’ll also provide some tips on what you can do to protect yourself if you are facing this situation.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
The Fair Housing Act prohibits landlords from evicting you solely based on the fact that you have children or are pregnant. However, you may be evicted on other grounds if they apply to you, such as a violation of legal occupancy limits, non-payment of rent, criminal activity, or any other basis for eviction under applicable law.
Ok, let’s get into it.
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The Fair Housing Act (FHA)
The key federal law that typically applies in this situation is the Fair Housing Act (FHA).
Under the FHA, landlords may not discriminate against tenants on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. Source.
This means that landlords are not permitted to evict a tenant because they have children.
Here’s how it ties together. First you need to establish what constitutes discrimination. That’s pretty simple. The FHA clearly states that in the rental context, eviction is a form of discrimination. Source.
Next, let’s you need to analyze whether having children falls under one of the categories listed above. Again, the answer is pretty straightforward. Having children is clearly covered under the “familial status” category of protection.
In fact, the government (HUD) showcases discrimination based on children as an example of a violation of the FHA’s prohibition against familial status discrimination. Source.
So to recap, the FHA prohibits landlords from evicting tenants based on them having children.
Exceptions to the FHA
The FHA covers most housing, but there are some notable exceptions. For example, all of the following are exempt from the FHA’s requirements:
- Owner-occupied buildings with four units or less,
- Single family homes sold or rented by the owner without the use of an agent
- Housing that is operated by a religious organization or private club that limit occupancy to members.
So, if your situation is covered by the above exceptions, the FHA will not apply to you, but that is not necessarily the end of the story. Many state and local laws adopt similar protections to the FHA (and sometimes even more protective provisions).
Let’s turn to that.
State and Local Laws
As mentioned above, many state and local laws have adopted anti-discrimination provisions that mirror or are based on the FHA’s requirements. .
In addition, some states and localities have rent control laws that prohibit a landlord from evicting a tenant for any reason other than “just cause” (which usually takes the form of nonpayment or other significant violations of the lease).
These types of laws vary by jurisdiction (and some areas won’t have any such laws around rent control or anti-discrimination), so you should familiarize yourself with specific laws in your area that would apply to your situation.
Be Aware of Local Occupancy Limits
If you are living in an area that has legal occupancy limits, you should be mindful of them when determining whether a new addition to your household will cause issues.
Occupancy limits can vary depending on the jurisdiction, but in general, they are there to ensure the health and safety of tenants living in a rental unit.
Here are some of the common factors used to determine occupancy limits (again, bear in mind that jurisdictions vary on rules around occupancy):
- Square footage: Some jurisdictions impose a minimum square footage per occupant. You will often see 70 square feet for the first occupant in a bedroom and an additional 50 square feet per additional occupant. Again, this can vary depending on the specific regulations in your area.
- The “2+1” rule: A common standard is the “2+1” rule. This states that two people can occupy a bedroom, plus one additional person can live in the common living space.
- Relationship between occupants: Some jurisdictions may factor in the relationship between occupants. For example, immediate family members may be allowed to share a bedroom, while unrelated adults may be subject to more restrictive occupancy limits.
- Age of occupants: Some jurisdictions may have different occupancy limits based on the age of the occupants. For instance, children under a certain age may not be counted towards the occupancy limit or may be allowed to share a bedroom with their parents or siblings.
This can be a complex area and may require legal assistance (or at least a good amount of research into your state and local laws).
For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.
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What Does Your Lease Say
Now, we’ve covered a fair amount of ground on the legal and regulatory landscape around evictions on the basis on having children, but I don’t want to neglect the contractual elements involved.
I would highly recommend that you check your lease and see what it has to say on children and what is permitted.
Of course, your lease is generally not going to overrule what the law requires, but it is possible that the lease may contain provisions that confirm a good outcome for you (and you can spare yourself the time and cost of analyzing your state and local laws).
Common Legal Grounds For Eviction
Now we have covered whether a landlord can evict you for having children, but there are other grounds that can serve as the basis for eviction, which you should be mindful of.
For example, if the new child causes a financial jam for you and you can’t make rental payments, the landlord will absolutely have the right to evict you for nonpayment.
Or if you have an older child and they engage in criminal activities, cause damage to the landlord’s property, or disrupt the community, these can also be grounds for eviction, depending on your lease and state and local laws.
While we can’t cover every scenario, here are some of the most common legal reasons for evictions:
- Non-payment of rent
- Criminal Activity
- Illegally subletting
- Disrupting the community
- Causing damage to the property
How Do I Protect Myself and My Children From Eviction?
Fortunately, there are some ways to protect yourself and your family from possible eviction.
1. Know the Terms of Your Lease
If you’re in violation of your lease, your landlord can evict you—regardless if you have children or not. This is why it’s important to know the terms of your lease and ensure that you or your family members aren’t violating any of them.
2. Understand State and Local Laws Applicable to Your Tenancy
You should also have a good understanding of relevant state and local laws that apply to your tenancy. Your lease will not always lay out every situation where you can be evicted.
Some leases are poorly drafted or are very bare bones, so make sure you know the full scope of what is legally permitted and not permitted as a tenant in your jurisdiction. Common examples or prohibited activity include criminal activity, domestic violence, excessive noise, and so on.
In addition to understanding the laws you shouldn’t be violating as a tenant, you should also understand what rights you have as a tenant under applicable law. Earlier, we mentioned rent control laws as one example of a limitation that landlords have in evicting tenants.
But even if your state and local laws don’t provide rent control protections, they may still offer significant eviction safeguards, so bear that in mind.
3. Maintain a Good Relationship with Your Landlord
Sometimes being a responsible tenant and a good neighbor can go far. If you have cultivated a good relationship with your landlord, they will likely want to work out any issues with you before going to the courts for an eviction.
So be courteous, be responsible, and try to maintain a solid relationship with your landlord at all times.
4. Document Any Issues In Case Things Go Sideways
Sometimes an eviction or other legal proceeding is unavoidable. In that case, you want to be well prepared. Make sure you document in writing any critical issues or communications you have with the landlord about the dispute.
Make sure you convey all notices in writing in accordance with the lease and state and local laws.
Remember to keep all evidence relating to the dispute including records of payment, emails, texts, videos, pictures, and so on. You may need them when it comes time to present your side of the story to the courts.
5. Seek Outside Help
If you are facing an eviction, you can seek outside help. Obviously, a lawyer can be one of your best options. But they can be expensive.
You can also reach out to local tenants rights organizations or contact your local housing authority if you believe your landlord is acting in bad faith or in violation of the law.
So there you have it – a detailed look at whether your landlord can evict you for having children and some tips on how you can avoid eviction. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!