Agreement settles complaint against student housing provider

A conciliation agreement with a provider of student housing is being hailed as expanding housing opportunities for families with children and opening access to more than 12,830 rentable units, including some at college campuses in Indiana.

The Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana joined other housing advocates in filing a housing discrimination complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on Dec. 3, 2019, against Pierce Education Properties. Specifically, the complainants alleged Pierce Education Properties violated the Fair Housing Act by making housing unavailable to families with children, imposing discriminatory terms and conditions, and engaging in discriminatory advertising practices.

Pierce Education Properties and its affiliates manage property on behalf of owners including the Indiana locations of Smallwood on College, 455 N. College Ave., Bloomington; The Haven, 3701 N. Marleon Dr., Muncie; and The Lodge on the Trail, 2101 Cumberland, Ave., West Lafayette. In addition, the company manages a portfolio of 27 student housing complexes that contain about 5,715 individual units in 18 states.

Under the terms of the agreement with HUD announced Monday, PEP will pay $50,000 and change its policy to provide equal housing opportunity for families with children. Also, the company will revise its marketing materials to be inclusive of all students and train its employees and managers to, among other things, ensure compliance with fair housing laws.

HUD did not make a determination on the validity of the allegations and PEP denied the allegations and admitted no wrongdoing.

“We commend Pierce Education Properties and plan to hold them as a model for other student housing portfolios in how they worked to quickly address the issues in the filed complaint and fully open their housing to students with children,” Amy Nelson, executive director of the FHCCI, said in a news release. “Those with children face housing barriers far too often and sometimes must make challenging choices in finding safe and affordable housing while building toward their futures.”

According to the complaint, PEP allegedly engaged in a pattern of discrimination through its enforcement of a one-person-per-bedroom policy regardless of the size of the bedroom, local occupancy code or HUD guidance. The housing advocates launched an investigation of PEP rental units in several states and found a single student with a child as young as 1 could not share the bedroom but had to rent an extra bedroom. The investigation also uncovered that a married student couple with a child could not rent a two-bedroom unit.

Jeff Dillman, co-director of the Fair Housing Project of Legal Aid of North Carolina, stated, “Throughout the country, families with children face great difficulty finding safe, affordable housing. Overly-restrictive occupancy policies can unlawfully deny them housing they are otherwise qualified for, and the current pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. We hope that Pierce Educational Properties’ new policies will serve as a model for other housing providers to ensure that they provide families with children an equal opportunity to housing.”

FHCCI brought the complaint along with the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, Grand Rapids, Michigan; the Lexington Fair Housing Council, Lexington, Kentucky; and Legal Aid of North Carolina, Raleigh, North Carolina.

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