Discrimination Claims by RV Tenants
A manufactured home community has an RV section. Community management is aware that the Federal Fair Housing laws apply to manufactured home community tenants and that the community cannot discriminate against protected groups when renting manufactured home spaces. Do the same laws apply to RV tenants? Does it matter if they are short-term vacation occupancy RVs as opposed to longer term space rental RVs?
Generally the short answer is yes, the Federal Fair Housing laws apply to RV rentals. It also does not matter whether the RV rental is a vacation occupancy rental or a long-term rental. The discrimination laws apply either way.
Specifically, the Federal Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) prohibits discrimination in the rental of a “dwelling” based upon race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. "Dwelling" includes any vacant land which is offered for lease for locating any “structure” on it. A structure would include an RV.
(Note: State fair housing statutes also protect against discrimination based upon race, color, sex, marital status, source of income (excluding Section 8), familial status, religion, national origin, and disability. Some local ordinances [e.g., Portland and Eugene] protect against discrimination based upon age and sexual orientation.)
As such, and as an initial matter, landlords should avoid asking any questions of RV rental applicants related to these prohibited areas. The sole exception may be the age of a potential applicant if the RV section qualifies as a “55 or older” facility under the Federal Fair Housing Act. The qualifications for “55 or older” housing are very strict and you should always check with your attorney before asking age-related questions on your rental application.
During an RV tenancy, landlords must also be careful to avoid anything that might be interpreted as discriminatory. For example, rent increases should typically be made across the board to avoid discrimination allegations. Another thing to avoid is the uneven enforcement of your rules and regulations. Every RV tenant should be held equally accountable to follow the rules, and appropriate notices should be issued to every tenant who violates the rules to leave no room for any discrimination claims.
The Fair Housing Act also prohibits acts that “discriminate against any person… in the provision of services or facilities in connection with [a] dwelling, because of a handicap of that person or any person associated with that person.” The FHA defines discrimination as “a refusal to make reasonable accommodation in its rules, policies, practices, or services, when such accommodations may be necessary to afford a [disabled] person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.” The FHA obligates landlords to make “reasonable accommodations” in the “rules, policies, practices, or services,” necessary to afford handicapped persons “equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”
This means that if an RV tenant requests an “accommodation” for his or her handicap, the landlord is obligated to provide it unless it causes a financial or administrative burden. A typical example might be if a handicapped RV tenant requested an RV rental space closest to the park’s RV restrooms/showers. In most cases, the landlord would need to accommodate this request if it were possible to accommodate the request without causing a “burden.”
However, landlords need not provide housing to individuals whose “tenancy would constitute a direct threat to the health or safety of other individuals or whose tenancy would result in substantial physical damage to the property of others.” A good example of this would be if an RV tenant requested to keep a pit bull as a “companion animal.” In most instances, the landlord would be justified in rejecting this request since pit bulls are generally considered a dangerous breed.