Joseph Jeff and his wife Nancy Lynner -- bright-eyed pantomimists known to many Washingtonians for their delightful, silent shenanigans -- are going to have a baby, so they dutifully reported the good news to their building manager.

In response, they received hearty congratulations and notice to vacate their apartment by the time the baby was born.

The building manager, Jeff recalled, said, "'Children change the quality of life, and it is a rule to exclude them.'"

The anti-children rule Jeff learned so abruptly is based on an opinion shared not only by most building managers in the Jeffs' mostly white, affluent, Cleveland Park neighborhood but in other neighborhoods throughout the District as well.

"As the child comes from the womb (in December) we'll be asked to leave," Jeff complained in a hearing last week to members of the D.C. City Council committee on public service and consumer affairs.

"But we're not leaving," he said.

Jeff and his wife are not alone. The housing fight is on.

In recent months, discrimination faced by singles and couples with children has surfaced as the second most volatile housing issue in metropolitan Washington. Displacement by condominium conversions is number one.

City Council Member David A. Clarke (D-Ward 1) has responded by proposing a bill that would prohibit buildings from barring children. Senior citizen complexes would be exempt from the proposed law.

Before the City Council meeting, the Metropolitan Washington Planning and Housing Association (MWPHA) met with area civil rights, housing and child advocates to discuss the severity of housing discrimination against children in D.C.

Carol Rende, director of the MWPHA office of equal housing opportunity, reported that in the District, only "20 percent of all rental units (house) one or more children under 18 years of age."

In February 1978, she continued, the Corporation Counsel issued as openion that the D.C. Office of Human Rights did not have the authority to intervene in cases involving discrimination against children in housing.

"We believe it is a growing problem," Rende told a group of about 50 gathered last week at the District Building to vent heir complaints. "We're going to encourage people to file complaints."

As the meeting progressed, debate centered on the merit of Clarke's proposed bill and the inability of the Human Rights Office to quickly investigate housing complaints.

The discussion resulted in suggestions that MWPHA and advocates:

Develop a lobby to protest housing discrimination against families with children.

Challenge the Corporation Counsel's opinion.

Propose ways to strengthen procedures of the Office of Human Rights so cases can be investigated rapidly if the way is cleared for the office to accept complaints of discrimination against children in housing.

Investigate whether emergency legislation is needed to help people with children in need of immediate housing.

One woman urged action as soon as possible.

"People aren't interested in changing the system," she said. "They're interested in finding a place to live."

Jeff said he sympathizes with the searchers.

"The maximum we can afford (for an apartment) is $300 a month," he said sadly. "In Cleveland Park the only apartment we can find for $300 is an efficiency."

Even then, he said, "When we told them (resident managers) we were having a child they looked at us like we were diseased."