What Is Considered “Unlawful Discrimination” in a Rental Application Process?

Unlawful discrimination occurs when a landlord offers prejudicial treatment to a tenant or a prospective tenant on the basis of group characteristics that are not closely related to the landlord’s business or commercial needs.

The most common cases are race, religion, gender, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, nationality, ancestry, source of income, disability, immigration or citizenship status, and having people under the age of 18 living in the household. With the exception of the source of income, a landlord may not ask a tenant questions, either verbally or in writing, about any of the above matters.

In addition, you should not ask tenants questions about the prospective tenant’s age or medical condition.

You may ask the tenant about the number of people who will be living in the rental unit. While you as a landlord can establish reasonable standards for the number of people per square feet in a rental unit, you cannot use overcrowding as a pretext for refusing to rent to tenants with children if you would rent to the same number of adults.

In the context of rental housing, unlawful discrimination can be expressed in any of the following scenarios when motivated by discriminatory reasons:

  • Refusing to rent to a tenant

  • Advertising excluding a particular group

  • Refusing to let a tenant view the property

  • Claiming a housing unit is not available for rental when it actually is

  • Offering or providing inferior housing terms and conditions

  • Canceling the rental agreement

  • Offering or providing segregated housing accommodations

Tellus TIP:

Remember that discrimination isn’t just refusing to rent to a tenant, but also providing inferior housing or excluding certain groups in your advertising. Always be careful.