How to Certify Households with Pregnant Members
Households at your site with pregnant members, and families with pregnant members who apply to live at your site, are subject to specific HUD rules when it comes to eligibility, income, and unit size. But you have to be careful about how you use what you learn with regard to pregnant residents and applicants so that you do not treat these individuals in any different or unfair way.
“I've heard of how, in the 1970s, managers would directly ask an applicant if she were expecting and the exact due date as part of the rental screening,” says property management consultant Amanda Atkins. “In this day and age of fair housing awareness, these questions seem preposterous. But they were quite common just 30 years ago.”
Generally speaking, unborn children are counted as household members for occupancy and income purposes, Atkins explains. But unborn children are not considered dependents. “As for today's approach to a growing household who may be applying for HUD assisted housing, there are a few things to remember, she says:
“First, federal civil rights law requires that we not discriminate against anyone for age or familial status, which includes a pregnant mother. Furthermore, the Fair Housing Act protects familial status as well,” notes Atkins. “Second, HUD instructs us to count unborn children for occupancy size with the regulation regarding anticipated children, which can also include situations like foster children. Third, HUD instructs us to count unborn children when determining family size for income limits.”
Follow Five Dos & Don'ts
Here are five Dos and Don'ts for complying with HUD rules that apply to pregnancy:
Count unborn children to determine household size for income limits. Chapter 3 of HUD Handbook 4350.3 says you must count unborn children as household members for occupancy and income purposes. You count a pregnant household member as two people, and use the income limits for a larger household size. This helps households with pregnant members qualify to live at your site.
Count unborn children to determine unit size. HUD says you also must count a household's unborn child or children when you are determining the size of the unit the family is entitled to, based on your site's occupancy standards. If an applicant household member is expecting, you should give the family a unit that would be an appropriate size when the baby is born. The same consideration should be given to a household already living at your site. For example, if a two-person family, with a pregnant member, who currently lives in a one-bedroom unit requests to be moved to a two-bedroom unit to accommodate the baby, you should grant the request. For the purpose of calculating unit size, the household has three people.
Don't count unborn children as dependents. According to Handbook 4350.3, Chapter 5, families receive a deduction of $480 for each dependent family member. However, HUD says that an unborn child does not qualify as a dependent. The family does not receive a dependent allowance for the unborn child when you are calculating the household's adjusted gross income to determine rent. Your direction to the family is to come back to your management staff for an interim recertification after the baby is born.
Don't require expectant household member to verify pregnancy. In Chapter 4 of Handbook 4350.3, HUD discusses screening criteria that could be considered to be discriminatory. Part of that discussion includes criteria that require medical evaluation or treatment. Specifically, in Paragraph 4-8B, HUD says, “Owners may not require [a pregnant woman] to undergo medical testing to determine whether she is pregnant in order to assign a unit with the appropriate number of bedrooms.” This means you cannot ask a pregnant woman to get written verification from her doctor. You may, however, ask the household member herself to certify that she is pregnant.
You can use our Model Form: Ask Household Member to Certify She Is Pregnant. When you are requesting this certification, you should make it clear to the household member that you are asking for the sole purpose of being able to count her unborn child for determining income limits and unit size.
Perform interim recertification. When the child is born, you will need to conduct an interim recertification of the household. After the birth, the family can start claiming a dependent allowance, according to Handbook 4350.3, Chapter 7.
If the pregnancy terminates, the household should report this situation to you. You may need to make adjustments in the appropriate unit size for the household.
Avoid Common Missteps
During the application process, a manager or owner will need to know if there is an anticipated child who will be part of the household in the near future, Atkins points out. But the manager or owner must do so without steering, discriminating, or seeking this information in any way which could be misconstrued as derogatory. Atkins advises caution.
“While I do not advise my clients to include a question in their application packet directly asking an applicant if she is pregnant, I do suggest that management explain what ‘anticipated child’ means,” she says. “This can be done by offering the HUD definition in the application packet or having management explain the definition during an applicant interview.” It's not uncommon for applicants to volunteer the information about their condition, Atkins adds.
“In my experience, the applicant will typically list the unborn child on the application with as much information as the family has at that time,” she explains. “This is especially common when a larger unit size may be available with the addition of the unborn child. By not asking the direct question of pregnancy, yet clearly outlining the definition of ‘anticipated child,’ management has avoided fair housing liability while treating everyone in a fair manner.”
One common issue Atkins encounters is how to handle a situation in which a newborn is not reported to management. There are a variety of reasons this could happen, such as a stillborn birth or a baby being given up for adoption.
“Suppose management has moved in a household with an unborn child listed on the application, included for income limit and occupancy size, but the child is never reported to management for inclusion on the 50059 form,” she says. “This is a tricky area for many reasons. Obviously, the emotional aspect of why that child has not been added to the household is one management should keep in mind. Management may also realize that the site now has an underutilized unit with too few household members for that unit size.”
Atkins suggests broaching the subject at the next annual recertification. “It is common practice for management to check in with the head of the household about the composition of the household and if any changes have occurred,” she says. “Upon discovering that the anticipated child is not part of the household, management can then take steps to seek the proper unit size for that household.”
Amanda Atkins: Atkins Consulting Professionals, 2135 Arthur St., Eugene, OR 97405; (541) 683-1500; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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