Tip #24

Know What is Considered Illegal Discrimination

Written on February 12, 2013 by , updated on October 30, 2017

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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10 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Stephanie Lujan

    2 questions: I’m advertising a room for rent in my home (I reside there). 1. Can I state rent is one amount for a single person and another amount for a couple? For example: rent is $700/mo. for a single person and $900 for a couple. and 2. I am a lesbian. Can I say in my ad: “Must be LGBTQ friendly” ? They can anything they are — gay, straight, I don’t care. I just want them to be respectful and open to me as a gay person. Thanks, Stephanie

  • Laurie Sanders

    I’m concerned for my daughter she is dealing with the landlord that is not fixing anyting in the place Old House she has four children under the age of 8 her husband works full-time when they sign the lease they didn’t read the whole thing and said told them that they have to take care of things that are none of his concern they pay 1200 a month if they’re late it’s $100 more basement is leaking the kitchen sinks are plugged up the bathtub upstairs is leaking through the kitchen I’m very concerned don’t know where they can turn they don’t have the money for an attorney when I came to look at the house that they rented I could tell there was leakage in the basement they were having problems already where do they turn thank you I’m a mom

  • Jerri

    If I am renting out a portion of my own house, why can’t I say women only? I don’t want rent my rooms to a man. It’s my house and I don’t feel safe with a man in the house. Plus I live very close to a university and know first hand what college guys can do to a room (any age guy.)

  • Jill

    I am attempting to sue my landlord for discrimination through Fair Housing in Ca.
    My case manager said the discrimination can only be that has occured in the last year.
    The problem with that is my rent increases that are far more then any other tenants increases go back years. So to prove my case it needs to show year after yesr increases. They just hsve wanted me to leave due to a reasonable accomidation due to a handicap

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