As apartment manager, I get to deal with the petty issues that come up with our tenants. Once a tenant wrote me a long note after the laundry machine ate her seventy five cents. She demanded not only to be reimbursed the seventy five cents, but also to be reimbursed for the pain and suffering that she had experienced due to the inconvenience of a faulty machine. I explained to her with as straight a face as possible that I was sorry for her suffering, but there was no way we could calculate the dollar amount of the suffering she had experienced and to please accept seventy five cents and our apologies instead.
Recently, however, the notes on my door have been more personal in nature. Up until two years ago there were no children living in our apartment building. The previous landlady didn’t want children living here and made frequent comments about how it would disturb the single professionals living in the building to have children around. We didn’t tell her we were planning on having children when we moved in. She was surprised when she noticed I was expecting and commented about how she would rather have tenants with children living on the bottom floor so the sound of their feet didn’t disturb the downstairs dwellers. Another couple moved in a few months later. When the wife had a baby 6 months later, the landlady told me she never would have moved them in if she knew they were going to have a baby. We tried to get our friends to move in to our complex when units emptied out but the landlady told them that because of their children, they were not fit for the units since the noise of their family would disturb their neighbors. At this point Adam and I were up in arms and wrote a letter to the management company letting them know the landlady was engaging in very specific family discrimination in housing and that we had contacted the Department of Housing and Urban Development to see about official action against her. A week later, the landlady was out of a job.
The management company then asked me to manage our apartment complex. I quickly accepted. Housing costs in L.A. are out of control and we could really use the break on rent. When families applied to live in our complex, I gave them the thumbs up. I’ve been manager for over a year now and there are currently nine families living in our 24 unit complex. Kids use the pool, we moms get together for play dates, and I have felt that our little apartment community has gotten a lot friendlier. But a few weeks ago the notes started. The first one was polite enough. The anonymous complaint addressed the “increasing volume generated by my new neighbors” and asked that “although families with young children should not be discriminated against, I ask that you pause and sympathize with the rest of us when considering future tenants.” It was signed, “A concerned tenant.”
The second letter was a bit more emotional and said, “there’s always some kid screaming and playing in the pool (and isn’t it dangerous for little kids/babies to be in the pool?).” The anonymous vigilante then wrote, “if we felt like having screaming kids around us for hours until 6 pm. we’d go visit a park.” This letter was signed, “A very concerned tenant.”
Because it is blatantly illegal to discriminate against families when considering rental applications and children are allowed to play in the pool during regular pool hours, we did nothing to respond to these anonymous complaints. Summer here has been extraordinarily hot and most days a couple of families used the pool to cool off and relax. As they should.
Then a third note came. “This apartment complex was quiet and peaceful until you guys started having the screaming kids running around the complex in the courtyard and playing in the pool. We’d like to come home to a nice environment, not to “your backyard” with so many screaming kids around…this is not your and your friends’ private backyard. Screaming kids should not be running around in the common area to disturb us. Please leave the screaming kids in your own apartments. We DO NOT want to hear your conversations and babytalks with your kids…We choose to live [here] for a reason and you’re ruining it for us with the screaming kids, loud noises, and splashing in the pool.”
The complainer didn’t bother thinking up a cute name to sign this one.
I immediately called the management company I work for and raved for about 15 minutes about how I would not let families be discriminated against in any way and how it is illegal to take action against families simply because their children make kid noises in normal circumstances. I reminded them about the previous manager and let them know that I would happily quit as apartment manager if they were to take any action against the families in our complex because of these complaints. I was frickin’ livid. My boss listened patiently to my ravings, then told me what a great job I was doing and not to worry about this letter. We both are just hoping that this anonymous kid-hater just moves out.
Since this last letter, I’ve taken my girls swimming every stinking day at 5:00. I don’t care whether they want to go or not, I don’t care if the pool is 40 degrees, I don’t care if I have other errands I needed to run, we get in that pool and play. Although I have the list narrowed down to a few names, I’m not quite sure who the complainer is. But luckily for them, their notes have really given me the itch to have my kids play outside and enjoy our wonderful California pool daily. My girls couldn’t be happier.
I’ve talked to a lot of friends in town who have stories of being discriminated against when they were looking to rent an apartment with children. Often a landlord will ask if an applicant has children and if they say they do, the apartment magically becomes unavailable. Families are often told that two kids are too many for a two bedroom apartment. Sometimes landlords even try to raise rent when children are born. You NEVER have to tell a landlord that you have kids, they have no right to tell you how big of a space your family should live in and penalizing you for having kids is just plain wrong. For some reason, people out there continue to think they can do this kind of thing.
Everyone should know that if you can prove that you’ve been discriminated against because of your family status, you can get the company busted and win $10,000 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I’m not sure how much these laws differ from state to state, but here are a few links to legal sites that describe what exactly entails discrimination against families. For any of you renters out there, take a look and you may be surprised to find that you’ve been discriminated against. Don’t let anyone get away with it. Take unfearing action - the law is on your side. Anyone up for a swim?
Legal rights: http://discriminationiswrong.com/families.html#families
Department of Housing and Urban Development Complaints: http://www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/FHLaws/yourrights.cfm
(Added on Tuesday for the sake of the comment section: I do alert the families when there is complaint about the noise and they are all warned when they move in that the complex used to be kid-free and that some tenants aren’t used to having kids around. But I also tell them that they are allowed to use the pool during pool hours as long as they keep their voices at a respectful level and that their children are welcome to play outside. After this last anonymous note I received, I posted a notice to the apartment community saying that we should all try and be patient and considerate of each other as we try to live together in this small space and posted a copy of the house rules which have no anti-family clauses. My management company didn’t want me to get into the specific “laws” of family rights because they feared our tenants would get sue-happy.)
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