Housing lawsuit: Family size is a civil right

Kent County

CASCADE TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A West Michigan family found themselves locked out of a prospective home, told they have too many kids to live there.

Now they are suing. 

The Iacopellis are four kids strong, with two boys and two girls between 1 and 9 years old and another boy coming at the end of February. 

In April, Matt and Lynn Iacopelli were looking for a place to live after selling their house. The place they were going to get fell through, so they moved to rent a place at Cascade Place Condominiums. Located off 28th Street east of I-96 southeast of Grand Rapids, Cascade Place is a couple of streets of tidy condominiums on a pair of quiet cul-de-sacs. 

“It was great. We found Cascade Place and they were like, ‘Yup, you can move in on Wednesday.’ And we’re like, ‘Perfect,’” Lynn Iacopelli said.

They rented moving trucks and storage, but were then informed via text message that there was an occupancy limit of five people. 

“It was a punch to the gut to be punished for fertility, which is a blessing,” Iacopelli said. 

The rejection left them with few options. 

“It really put us in a big predicament going from, ‘Hey, you can move into this place on Wednesday,’ to ‘Hey, you still have nowhere to live,'” Iacopelli said.

The family contacted the Fair Housing Center of West Michigan, which goes to bat for people facing housing discrimination.

“We’re not talking about a nonfamily household of seven college students, and so it’s important to remember we’re talking about families with children and their access to housing,” Elizabeth Stoddard, director of advocacy for the center, said.

The agency has over 50 cases involving restrictions on family size. Stoddard said it’s a civil rights issue that can end up before the Michigan Civil Rights Department or federal housing authorities. 

“We are seeing this happen quite often. And we often say West Michigan is such a great place to raise family and we have all these things that draw in families with children, but if you can’t find a place to live, that dream is not a reality for you,” she said. 

There are standards that limit people according to the square footage of a home. The condominium the Iacopellis were looking was a three-bedroom that could house up to nine people, according to Cascade Township’s regulations. 

Filed in federal court in Grand Rapids, the Iacopellis’ lawsuit names Greenridge Realty, commercial real estate company NAI Wisinski of West Michigan and the Cascade Place Condominium Association as defendants.

Attorneys for Greenridge and Wisinski told News 8 they had nothing to do with writing the rules. The association and its attorney did not respond to requests for comment.

But Wisniski is responsible for the enforcement of the rules, said attorney Robert Howard, who filed the suit for the Iacopellis. He said while a restriction on the number of people looks neutral, it impacts families because only about 0.2% of households with six or more people are not families. 

Howard argues family size is protected by the civil rights law in Michigan. He said his clients deserve financial compensation for the hardships caused by the denial of housing. They also hope it prompts Cascade Place and other developments to look at their regulations to make sure they comply with the law. 

When asked whether a person who does not want a large family living next door should have any say, the attorney said no.

“I would look at that the same way as if you don’t want people of a different race moving in next to you,” he said. “What rights do you have? You don’t have that right. The family has the right to choose where they want to live.”

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