When Dennis Romboy's wife became pregnant in 1987, they had to move out of their two-bedroom apartment, although there was plenty of room for the new, expanded family. The Romboys lived in an adults-only apartment complex.
But the days of adults-only communities are gone.On Sunday new federal Fair Housing Act standards take effect. In addition to existing rules that prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin, it will be illegal to refuse to rent or sell housing or make a housing loan because someone is handicapped or has children. Complexes are exempt if at least one occupant is age 55 or older in 80 percent of the units, so retirement communities for senior citizens would not see a change in status.
"It's going to be a hindrance," said Sandra Dalebout, manager of the 124-unit Hill Creek apartments. "It's not that we have something against children. We don't, at all. But we don't have a place for children to play safely or room to build one. And we have some concrete stairwells, so it becomes a matter of safety. It's a little scary. One advantage though, is that people with kids do usually stay in one place, at least through the school year."
Marsha Winters and her husband have enforced the no-children policy in the nine-unit apartment house they manage for 22 years, but have changed their practice as a result of the new law. "We have notified our tenants that, should they become pregnant, they can stay," she said. "We never have had problems with the policy. People who moved in knew about it and we never had to approach anyone about moving because of children, although people have had to move."
"We were told children were not allowed because there was no place to play," said Romboy, a Deseret News intern. "Lots of driveway and parking lot, but no lawn or play area."
"Safety is the big issue," said Jackie Bryant, director of the Apartment Association of Utah. "A lot of the adult communities are aesthetically pleasing, but potentially very dangerous, like lakes, streams and balconies. That is, of course, cause for concern." Parents who take potential dangers into consideration could eliminate such worries, she said.
Although discrimination is banned, worries that umpteen million children will move into a unit are unfounded, since local zoning regulations will apply. "You can still discriminate on the basis of `There ain't enough room,' " said Steve Erickson, a Utah Issues staff member who promoted Utah's Fair Housing Act. "No one has to rent out a unit that will obviously be inadequate."
Under the new rules, landlords will not have to make modifications to accommodate those with handicaps, but the tenants will be allowed to make the modifications at their expense, as long as they restore the apartment when they leave. And multifamily dwellings of four or more units built after early 1991 will have to be accessible to handicapped persons.
"Where I see a potential for big problems," Bryant said, "is with landlords who don't know about the law. There are Mom 'n' Pop operations where a couple have owned property for a long time and set their own rules. They never worried about what the federal government was doing and now they just don't know. But a first violation can be up to $10,000, a second infraction can cost $25,000, then it goes up to $50,000."
The law allows a year to lodge complaints. Currently, complaints are dealt with through Denver, but Utah recently passed a Fair Housing Act, which will bring the process home. Utah's law takes effect July 1, but it may be some months before a local office is established. If you feel you have a complaint, contact the Community Housing Resource Board, 364-7765, for help with the procedure.