Discriminating against certain tenants for a rental property is against both federal and state law. If tenants feel that they've been unfairly turned away, they can file complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing or their state housing agencies.
Some Issues Are Beyond a Tenant's Control
A landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone based on that person's race, color, national origin, religion, sex or family status. Since tenants can't control these things, you can't deny them housing because of them. These rules apply to most types of housing but do not apply to a building you own and live in as long as there are no more than four units in that building.
You can't discriminate against disabled individuals either. You usually don't have to do anything special to the property to accommodate the disability. For example, you don't have to install a wheelchair ramp. But you must allow the renter to do so at the renter's own expense. The renter would also be responsible for the cost of removing the ramp at the end of the lease.
Children Are a Big Issue
If you're renting a private home, condo, townhouse, or apartment, you can't refuse to lease to tenants who have children.
The only exception to this rule is if you're renting units in a housing complex that is specifically geared toward senior citizens. All your other tenants must be over the age of 55 or 62, depending on your state's laws. These tenants moved in with the expectation that they would not have to deal with neighbors' young children. They have rights too.
A Tenant's Personal Relationships Are Private
In some states, you can't turn away prospective tenants because you don't like the details of their personal lives. You can't refuse to rent to homosexuals or to single people or unmarried couples who choose to live together. You can't refuse to rent to victims of crimes such as domestic violence because you're afraid these tenants might bring trouble to your doorstep.
Landlords Have Some Rights
If you're taking someone into your private home, either by renting a room or sharing your home with a roommate, the usual rules of discrimination may not apply. If you share common areas of a home or apartment, the law doesn't force you to rent to someone with whom you're not comfortable. Exceptions sometimes exist if you rent out multiple rooms in your home to different tenants.
You can refuse to rent a studio apartment to a family of six. You can refuse to lease to someone whose income or credit history clearly indicates that they can't afford the rent.
A Real Estate Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding rentals and discrimination is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact a real estate lawyer.