Q I am the vice president of a condominium. In our documents, written in the early 1980s, there is a requirement that rental agreements can only have one lessee. One of our owners, who rents out her unit, is an out-of-state attorney and claims that this requirement is prejudicial and a violation of the federal Fair Housing Act. We do not stipulate any particular person in the household to be the one lessee. It can be a male or female, older or younger adult member of a family, either of a pair of friends.
Is this owner correct? Even if she isn't, should we amend/delete the rule to prevent accusations of prejudice? Could we even be putting ourselves at a disadvantage by having to go through the one lessee to address any problems with another resident in the unit?
—Rented Out in Wrentham
A “In my experience, this is not a common provision in condominium documents,” according to Attorney Janet O. Aronson, a partner with the law firm of Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, P.C., with offices in Braintree, MA.
“A restriction which requires that a rental agreement ‘can only have one lessee’ raises a question of interpretation, in that it can require one lessee on the lease agreement but permit multiple occupants, or it may require that there only be one occupant of the unit. Furthermore, there does not seem to be any valid purpose for a single lessee, except to somehow limit who occupies the unit.
“The more common restriction is that a unit may not be occupied by more than two unrelated persons. With regard to any such restriction that seeks to limit the number of occupants in a unit based upon a relationship— or an arbitrary provision that only one person be responsible under a lease agreement—it may very well violate the Fair Housing laws. For such reasons, I would not recommend that such requirement be enforced by the association.
“While it is preferable to amend the documents to conform to the actual practice, as long as the questionable provision is not applied or required, the board should not face any claims for discrimination. “Additionally, regardless of the ‘lessee’ identified on the lease agreement, any issues concerning the use of the unit should always be directed to the unit owner, as it is the unit owner’s responsibility to deal with the occupants.”