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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9 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Sam

    Hi Lucas,

    I had some questions regarding Cozy implementation and respecting the protected familial class:

    1. The Cozy application at one point has an “add roommates” section. If the potential tenants are a married couple, should both spouses apply (with the second being added on the application as a “roommate”)?

    2. Similarly, what if the situation were an engaged couple applying as potential tenants? Should one apply and the other get added as a roommate? Are an engaged couple protected by the familial class?

    3. Should credit reports be done on both husband/wife or iance/fiancee? If yes, does it matter if one has a bad credit score when the other’s is good or above average?

    Thank you!

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Sam

      It’s great to hear from you.

      In order to group applications together, one applicant must invite the other via this “additional applicants/roommates” section. Once one person (let’s say the wife) completes his applications, and adds the husbands email address in the roommate section, he will receive an invite to complete the application himself. Then Cozy will group their data together, including income, and make it super easy for you to evaluate.

      Here’s a helpful guide: https://support.cozy.co/hc/en-us/articles/204118798-How-do-I-apply-to-rent-a-property-through-Cozy-

      Generally speaking, discrimination comes into play when you are evaluating them.

      I always suggest having EVERY ADULT complete an application just so you know who is living there. If you only have the wife complete an application, how do you know for sure that the husband hasn’t declared bankruptcy?

      If your applicants want to be considered a group under a single lease (regardless of their marital status), they should apply as a group (separate applications, considered together). Using the Cozy “Co-applicant/roommate” section is the best way to group applications.

      Credit reports should be done on anyone who is applying. If you require it for some, you need to require it for all – otherwise someone could suggest that you are discriminating (making them pay for a CR because of their skin color or something like that0.

      When evaluating credit scores, you need to look at the big picture. For example, if the wife is the bread winner, and has perfect credit, but the husband is jobless and has horrible credit – you’ll need to consider the income level in relation to it, and the group as a whole. It’s not a exact science, but you should do your best to consider everyone equally. Set standards and stick to them.

      Here’s a helpful (free) guide that I wrote: http://www.landlordology.com/guides/landlords-guide-tenant-screening/

      Good luck! Please remember that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice. I’m just an experienced landlord, trying to help:)

  • bunny

    Great post. Informative. Thanks.

    But what about discrimination regarding renting a room in a home in which you’re residing as well? I understood a landlord could discriminate based upon normally unacceptable qualities (i.e., sex,) if the room is in the landlord’s primary residence. Would a landlord have to install grab bars and ramps to allow access for the disabled in their own home? What if a woman landlord doesn’t want to live with a strange man 5 feet away.

    Could you give specifics regarding these allowances?

    Thanks again.

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Bunny

      That’s a great question.

      The Fair Housing Act does have some exemptions (my paraphrasing):
      1. Multifamily housing of two to four units, where one of the units is owner-occupied, is exempt from fair housing laws.
      2. The sale or rental of a single-family home when fewer than three homes are owned by an individual, and discriminatory advertising is not used, and a real estate professional is not part of the transaction.

      Check out # 1 here: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/FHLaws/yourrights

      I hope that helps. Please know that I’m not a lawyer, nor is this legal advice.

      • Donna

        Hi Lucas:

        I placed my very first room rental on CL last week. I got a referral to a friend of someone who saw my ad. I am advertising for foreign students as my house is close to university. The referral person says they want my room. Has asked in the first email I give them all of my personal info (name and address which was not published) so they can have their father in the states send the first months rent. No app, no screening has taken place. Second email now telling me to take down my ad and asking me to accept the shipment of their car and to pick them up from the airport. My spidy senses are going off as the exchange is very bossy for a 25 yo. Do you think this is legit and how can I make myself safer.

  • Jaclyn

    Never would have thunk I would find this so indsepeniabls.

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