Boca sued by Fair Housing Center


Staff report
The Fair Housing Center of the Greater Palm Beaches, recently filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Boca Raton, and the owners and operators of student housing developments in Boca Raton, Park Partners Residential LLC, Giles Capital Group, LLC, Lewis Rental Properties, Rosemurgy Properties, LLC, and Preiss Company, LLC.
The FHC suit alleges that the Defendants discriminate in the rental of housing based on familial status, in violation of the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, as amended. The suit arises as a result of a FHC testing investigation that showed that home seekers with minor children were treated differently from home seekers without minor children.
In early 2012, the City of Boca Raton passed Ordinance 5193, which created a new zoning district for student housing. The ordinance defines student housing as “housing that is specifically designed for occupants who have been accepted for full-time admission, or are enrolled in and attend Florida Atlantic University (“FAU”), Lynn University or Palm Beach State College in a 4-year degree program(s).” The ordinance requires that each “student sleeping room” contain “1 bed, 1 private closet, and 1 private bathroom,” and that the minimum floor area of each sleeping room “shall be 150 square feet per occupant.” The zoning restrictions discriminate against minor children and there are no exceptions in the ordinance even for the students with dependent minor children, FHC alleges.
Additionally the City’s square footage requirement within the student zoning district, is significantly more restrictive than the occupancy limitations imposed by the Palm Beach County Housing Code, according to the FHC.
According to the housing code, a sleeping room with 150 square feet of floor area is sufficient space for two occupants. The square footage requirement in Ordinance 5193 is also more restrictive than the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) policy on occupancy standards, which provides that an occupancy policy of two persons per bedroom, as a rule, is reasonable under the Fair Housing Act.
The private defendants own and operate “student housing” apartment buildings (“University Buildings”) in Boca Raton. One of the buildings, University Park, is located within the City’s student zoning district and all of the buildings are marketed exclusively to students. They are private housing communities, which are not on any university or college campus or otherwise associated with an educational institution. The apartments in the University Buildings are leased as individual student sleeping rooms, so that each sleeping room has its own lease. This lease requirement precludes minor children from the apartments because they cannot legally sign a lease. Further, only one person may occupy a bedroom, regardless of the square footage of the room, according to the suit.
The inevitable and foreseeable result of the leasing policies at the University Buildings and of Ordinance 5193 is that students with minor children are excluded from living in these private residences, FHC alleges. Further, FHC says the zoning code and the University Buildings were not developed in response to any demonstrated need for student housing. Officials from the largest nearby school, FAU, opposed the ordinance stating that private, off-campus student housing was unnecessary. Instead, it appears that the owners and operators of the University Buildings chose to create student housing, effectively precluding minor children, as a way to maximize their profits from the buildings, according to FHC.
The very colleges singled out by the City of Boca Raton in the passage of Ordinance 5193 recognize that many of their students are parents. FAU, with a total enrollment of more than 25,000 students, offers childcare on campus that aims to “provide care and a high-quality educational environment/experience for the children of FAU students.” Palm Beach State College, with a total enrollment of more than 15,000 students, provides resources on its website for students who may be in need of subsidized childcare. Most students at Lynn University are required to live on campus, but Lynn makes an exception for students with children.
“The City of Boca Raton received thousands of taxpayers’ dollars by certifying to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that they would affirmatively further fair housing within its city limits. This illegal ordinance is a clear violation of the Fair Housing Act and runs contrary to that certification to HUD”, stated Vince Larkins, FHC President/CEO.
The plaintiffs are represented by Attorneys Reed Colfax, and Tara K. Ramchandani, of the law firm of Relman, Dane & Colfax, PLLC, based in Washington, DC., and Attorney Maxine Cheesman, of the Law Office of Maxine D. Cheesman, P.A. in West Palm Beach, Florida.