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Provo apartment managers accused of discrimination

By Tania Mashburn | Posted - Jul 28th, 2014 @ 10:47pm

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PROVO — A newly married couple who are expecting a baby said a Provo apartment complex refuses to rent to them, but the Fair Housing Act says landlords can't discriminate based on "familial status."

Day after day, Scott and Lauren Snow look for a new place to rent that will be better suited for their growing family. The couple thought their search ended when they found a vacancy at Parkside Apartments — a one-bedroom apartment with a great floor plan and a washer and dryer.

"We went and saw it and it was perfect," said Lauren. "I loved it."

The couple immediately called the landlord and asked how soon they could move in.

"Then I mentioned that I was having a baby in December, and that's when the conversation kind of ended," said Lauren. "He said there's nothing we can do for you, there's no exceptions we can make. And that was it."

The landlord told them Parkside was zoned for married couples or single people only.

Even on the apartment's website it says, "Parkside is zoned for occupancy by either married couples or one individual. We're not able to accommodate more than one person in an apartment, unless they're married."

Which means once their baby is born, the Snows would be in violation of apartment rules.

Dan Singer, Fair Housing Manager for the State of Utah, said apartment rules mean absolutely nothing if they violate state and federal laws.

"We'll see ads that occasionally state that there's no children allowed there," said Singer. "Even making that statement would be illegal under the Fair Housing Act."

The Fair Housing Act (Sec. 804. [42 U.S.C. 3604]) states it's "unlawful to refuse to sell or rent ... or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of ... familial status."

According to the Utah Labor Division, that means landlords can't deny an apartment to someone with children.

Greg Sotor has owned Parkside Apartments for the last 20 years, and he said it was simply a business decision.

"The practicalities are that it just does not accommodate families with children," he said.

Market research told Sotor that Provo needed nicer, single-bedroom apartments to serve professionals and young married couples, with the exception of one thing: kids.

"Did you look at the legalities when making that decision of no kids?" asked KSL investigator Mike Headrick.

"Yes, I thought I did," Sotor said. "I'm a guy who likes to play right inside the lines of correctness."

But the lines of correctness may have been blurred by Sotor's legal counsel, which is telling him he could rent to whomever he choses. The Utah Labor Division says that is false, according to both state and federal law.

Even his rental license with the city of Provo shows the apartments are zoned for one family, which means children are allowed, or three singles per unit.

"If us telling you about this, if it suddenly brings it to your attention, does that change anything?" Headrick asked.

"Well, that's an interesting question," Sotor said. "First of all, the law is the law. However, I think the law, most laws, need to be tempered with some common sense."

Sotor says that common sense would show that a one-bedroom apartment is just too small for a couple with children. For some, maybe that's true. But legally, the Utah Labor Commission says it's not a decision he can make.

"I do not discriminate," Sotor said. "I mean, we rent to Asians, we rent to Hispanics, we rent to blacks, we rent to whites, we rent to atheists, we rent to non-Mormons, we rent to Mormons — we just don't discriminate."

But if you ask a couple with a baby on the way, they certainly disagree.

"It's obviously happening to so many people and it shouldn't be," Lauren said. "It shouldn't be happening at all."

If you believe you are being discriminated against, you can file a complaint with the Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division.


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