Jo Becker, Education/Outreach Specialist,
Fair Housing Council
Serving Oregon and SW Washington
According to Clackamas Fire District #1, about 3,300 children under the age of six fall from windows every year; 70% of them from second or third floor windows. In Oregon, about 50 children between the ages of 0-5 fall from windows annually. The majority of falls occur between May and September when warm weather entices us to open windows for cooling and ventilation.
Such falls can be deadly or lead to lifelong paralysis. In an effort to avoid such horrific tragedies, as well as to avoid liability, many housing providers have taken to advising residents and prospective residents of fall hazards. This, in and of itself, is a good thing; however, there can be fair housing implications.
Twenty years after familial status protection was added to the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA)1, it goes without saying that a landlord, condo association, or other housing provider may not turn away (nor discourage) families with children out of fear of harm to the children. This is true whether that potential perceived harm is the presence of windows on upper floors, lead-based paint, or rickety banisters on the property. It should only ever the family’s choice where and how to raise their children, so long as the household meet legally objective and consistently applied screening criteria and community rules.
Reasonable disclosures are not a bad idea and are, in fact, some times required as is the case with lead-based paint in properties build prior to 1978 (for more information on this visit www.FHCO.org/lead.htm). However, it is important that such disclosures not be targeted to any one protected class. That is to say, only warning families with children about safety issues of window falls and the precautions that can be taken by the household can have a “chilling (or discouraging) effect” and is legally akin to only warning the Muslim households and not the Jewish households, or all of the households in which someone has a disability but none of the rest of the households.
Review your policies and day-to-day procedures to assure you are not targeting children (or any other protected class), either directly or in effect. Where you see legitimate safety concerns, disclosures, disclaimers, warning signs, and having adequate general liability insurance are all appropriate measures to take, so long as these steps don’t single out one protected class, such as children.
Show your care and concern for all of your residents and potential residents by assuring all are well informed and best equipped to live safely on your property for years to come. To that end, following are some window fall safety tips from Clackamas Fire District #1 you may wish to share with all residents:
Set a household rule <note, this for the household to determine, not the housing provider> to open window no more than 4 inches wide. Install a window stop to prevent them from accidentally opening further.
If you do open windows wider than 4 inches, install window guards with an emergency release device.
Remember, windows also serve as a secondary means of escape during an emergency. Make sure all windows are still accessible and can open fully without special knowledge or tools.
Don’t rely on insect screens to prevent a window fall. Screens are to keep bugs out, not people or pets in.
Keep windows locked and closed when not in use.
Keep furniture away from windows.
Establish a household rule about keeping a respectful distance from windows.
When buying new windows, look for those with built-in 4-inch limiters.
As always, if you have questions about fair housing law, visit our website at www.FHCO.org. There you can find housing provider specific information on the “Housing Providers” page (www.FHCO.org/hs_provider_info.htm). For more information on your responsibilities and the protections surrounding familial status visit www.FHCO.org/families.htm.
This article brought to you by the Fair Housing Council; a nonprofit serving the state of Oregon and SW Washington. All rights reserved © 2014. Write jbecker@FHCO.org to reprint articles or inquire about ongoing content for your own publication.
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Federally protected classes under the Fair Housing Act include: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status (children), and disability. Oregon law also protects marital status, source of income, sexual orientation, and domestic violence survivors. Washington law covers martial status, sexual orientation, and domestic violence survivors, and honorably discharged veterans / military status. Additional protected classes have been added in particular geographic areas; visit FHCO.org/mission.htm and read the section entitled “View Local Protected Classes” for more information.