The availability of adult-only rental properties will soon decline dramatically.

In March 1989, most apartment complexes of four units or more that discriminate against renters with children could be subject to fines ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, according to a new federal law.The new rental regulation is a provision in the Fair Housing Act passed by Congress in September. Under the law, landlords with four units or more cannot turn away or assign special units or buildings to renters just because they have children.

Exemptions include projects that are state-financed; or where all units are occupied by residents 62-years-old or older; or where 80 percent of the residents are 55 years old or older and "significant facilities" for elderly needs are provided.

Publicity about single mothers unable to find an apartment motivated lawmakers to include the rental provision in the act, said a spokeswoman for the National Apartment Association, which opposed the measure.

The NAA unsuccessfully argued that an abundance of rental property exists nationwide and the issue is affordability not unvailable housing.

"They were trying to address the issue of affordability through the Civil Rights Act, but that doesn't address this question," said NAA legislative expert Colleen Fisher.

"A single mother with a low income may still not be able to meet the credit criteria" to move into a formerly adult housing project, which are typically expensive because of the amenities they offer.

James Terry, president of the Utah Apartment Association, said about 25 percent of the Utah market is adult-only housing, while 70-75 percent is partial adult, allowing children in some areas of the development but not in others.

The location of an apartment complex in Utah usually dictated whether it was family-oriented or for single or older adults. But location won't have anything to do with it now, he said.

Landlords won't be able to section off certain areas or buildings for adults only. Everything must be available to renters with children.

Terry said one tool apartment owners can work with is restricting a certain number of tenants to each unit. "For example, a one bedroom unit can be restricted to two tenants, or a two-bedroom to three people."

He said he doesn't anticipate any serious problems adapting to the upcoming change. Because of the number of children in Utah, Terry noted, most apartments are either all or partially open to families.

Developers of adult-only complexes may have to make some changes in facilities to comply with the new laws, and managers will have their hands full helping tenants, who will probably undergo the biggest change, adapt to younger neighbors.

Terry explained that the local association had fought the move until Congress narrowed it down to discrimination against renters with children. "We can still keep out convicted felons or drug users."

The new law will be administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with complaints heard by an administrative law judge, Terry explained. Violators will be hit with stiff fines: $10,000 for first-time offenders, $20,000 for those with a previous offense in the past five years and $50,000 for violators with two or more offenses in the past seven years.