Monday, August 08, 2005

Children and HOA Rules


Federal courts and California courts have applied anti-discrimination laws to community associations prohibiting them from discriminating against families with children, unless there is a legitimate health, safety or business reason for doing so.

1. Swimming Pools. Associations cannot prohibit children from using swimming pools, establish adults-only pools, or establish adults-only times. In Llanos v. Coehlo 24 F.Supp.2d 1052 (E.D. Cal. 1998), a federal court found that the association's rules designating "family pools" and "adult areas" in the complex and prohibiting children from playing in and around adult areas of the complex were discriminatory and violated the Fair Housing Act. A similar decision was reached by a federal court in Landesman v. Keys Condominium Owners Assn (2004). In this case, the association's reason for restricting children from the main pool was that adults enjoyed using the pool for lap swimming and they preferred the relative tranquility of a swimming pool not filled with active, noisy children. The court was sympathetic with the association before ruling against it. Although the case cannot be cited as authority, the court's reasoning is quite instructive:
The court is not unsympathetic to the concerns of the adult residents who want to be able to enjoy the pool in peace, but finds that plaintiffs have nonetheless established a prima facie case of discrimination and that The Keys Association has not articulated a legitimate justification for excluding children from the main pool. . . . If this were a case of a homeowners association allowing everyone to use the main pool at all available hours in the summer, with the exception of women, or persons born in Iraq or China, or members of the Episcopal Church, such restrictions would be equally unlawful as the restrictions on access by children. . . . Any problems The Keys Association believes are caused by noise or activity of certain children should be taken up with the parents or guardians of those children.

2. Gyms. Age limits on the use of gym equipment are valid if boards can support a claim that the equipment is dangerous for the restricted age group. In Landesman, the court upheld the association's restrictions on the use of the gym and other facilities based on safety concerns:

The third set of rules prohibits children under 16 from entering the gym unless accompanied by an adult, and also prohibits children under 16 from using the gym equipment at any time. The Keys Association contends that these rules are necessary because children under 16 could be injured by the gym equipment. . . . The Keys Association has articulated a legitimate basis for prohibiting children under 16 from using the gym equipment. . .

3. Adult Supervision. The Landesman court also found that the association's requirement of adult supervision was reasonable:
The second set of rules prohibits children under 15 from entering the clubhouse (which includes the billiards room, racquetball court, and possibly the sauna, steam room, and showers) unless accompanied by an adult. The Keys Association's articulated explanation is that these rules were implemented as a response to acts of damage and vandalism, and that the incidents of damage and vandalism subsided after the rules went into effect. In addition, with regard to the limits on use of the sauna, steam room, and showers, The Keys claims that this rule reasonably protects the safety of children under 15 who could be injured by use of the sauna or steam room if an adult is not present.

4. Playing in Common Areas. Associations may not institute a blanket prohibition against children from playing, skateboarding, or riding bicycles on an association's common areas. Any rule that singles out children in this manner would be considered discriminatory. A blanket rule prohibiting everyone (of all ages) from roller skating or riding bikes in the complex has a better chance of surviving scrutiny--but not necessarily.

In a 2003 case entitled Housing Rights Center v. Rivera Town Homes #CV 02-5163PA (C.D. Cal. Feb. 2003) seven families sued their condominium association alleging discriminated on the basis of familial status because the association prohibited children from playing in the common areas. The Federal Court ordered the association to pay $130,000 in damages and to repeal its rules against children. In addition, the association agreed to a two-year anti-discrimination training program for its staff, management company and board members.

Rules restricting skateboarding, rollerblading and bicycle riding may be applied to specific areas that represent a threat of injury or damage, such as: (i) indoor hallways (damage to carpet and potential injury to owners exiting their front doors, (ii) parking structures (potential injury and potential damage to parked vehicles), (iii) around swimming pools, etc.

5. Special Facilities. Associations are not required to provide play areas or special facilities for children.
Very truly yours,

Adrian J. Adams, Esq.
Adams & AuCoin, LLP

Adrian Adams may be contacted at

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