Tip #24

Know What is Considered Illegal Discrimination

Written on February 12, 2013 by , updated on July 21, 2020

Fair Housing Act and Fair Housing Amendments Act prohibit landlords from selecting tenants on the following characteristics:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Familial status, including having children or being pregnant
  • National Origin, or
  • a Mental or Physical Disability

Furthermore, some state and local laws prohibit discrimination based on a person’s age, marital status, and sexual orientation.  My rule of thumb is to always err on the side of caution.

Be Fair and Equal

Apart from these federally mandated characteristics, your leasing requirements can be whatever you want, as long as you treat all applicants equally and your decisions are based on legitimate business reasons.

Considering Pets

Having a “No Pets” rule is allowable, as long as you don’t deny someone with a pet, and then accept another.  Some landlords have weight limits on dogs – which I think is an unnecessary risk.  

To my knowledge, there is no legal precedent or documented case that proves larger dogs are more of a danger or nuisance than smaller dogs.  In fact, I would have hard time defending my case if an applicant ever decided to take me to court for discrimination based on pet size.


A “No Smoking” rule is a legitimate business reason because smoke and fire can damage a property.  Just remember, if you deny one applicant for being a smoker, you have to deny all smokers.

In Summary

ehoMy advice is to set standards and hold all applicants equally to those standards.

Keep your rental application neutral and do not advertise with quotes such as “Women only”, or “Christian group house”, etc. Do not discriminate on the characteristics listed in the Fair Housing Act.  If you do, you WILL get caught, and it will cost you.  Besides, if you cast a wide net, you’re bound to catch more fish.

If you would like to learn more about Fair Housing laws, check out “The History of Fair Housing“.

photo credit: looking4poetry via cc
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