Citation. 164 Vt. 237,668 A.2d 659,1995 Vt.
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Brief Fact Summary.
A couple lived in a mobile home park with their baby. Eviction proceedings were commenced against them.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The state fair housing act prohibits discrimination in renting if a person intends to occupy a dwelling with minor children.
The Virginia Fair Housing and Public Accommodations Act (Act) prohibits discrimination against persons with minor children. Linda and Ernest LaBrie (Defendants) owned a mobile home park, which had a two-person occupancy limit. Scott and Luanne McCarthy purchased a mobile home and were childless at the time. After they had a baby, they received an eviction notice from Defendants. The McCarthys filed a complaint with the Human Rights Commission (Plaintiff), who commenced this action. Defendants claim the restriction is needed because of a limited water and septic capacity at the park.
Is a restriction against living in a mobile home park with children discriminatory?
The Act prohibits discrimination in renting if a person intends to occupy a dwelling with minor children. A violation of the Act will exist if disparate treatment is found. This occurs when Defendants intentionally discriminate against members of a statutorily protected category because of their membership in that group.
Evidence of direct discrimination is sufficient to establish the intent to continue discrimination through a neutral policy. Here, the lease stated that there was a two-person maximum in each mobile home. This appears facially neutral, but no minor children have moved into the park since Defendants purchased it. This is sufficient to prove that the limit was set for the purpose of eliminating or limiting persons with minor children from the park. Based on Defendant’s action against the McCarthys and their pattern and practice of excluding minor children from the Park, there was an intent to discriminate against persons intending to occupy a dwelling with one or more minor children.
The septic and water capacity considerations brought up by Defendants is a pretext for discriminating against persons with minor children. Less restrictive means are available to Defendants. No evidence was presented that an increase in the number of occupants per living unit would adversely affect the septic or water systems.
While there may be valid reasons for a landlord to exclude some children, a policy that prohibits any children will be found discriminatory.