Over the past several years, the spotlight of discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity has been shining on the rental business, and landlords must be knowledgeable about what’s going on, both locally and nationally. Even landlords who are up to speed on their state’s protective laws or lack of them can see things change quickly as more states are addressing the issue. When it comes to rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (LGBT) applicants and tenants, landlords need to be very aware of discrimination laws.
Looking for Good Tenants
Most landlords simply want long-term tenants that take care of the rental property and pay the rent in full and on time. Beyond that, landlords should not care about the tenant’s personal life as long as it doesn’t interfere with others or the rental property itself. However, there are some landlords out there who feel that it is their business to know the business of others and they may even discriminate against applicants and tenants. Landlords that have strong feelings about LGBT applicants often make it very clear that they will refuse to rent to them.
In some areas, discriminating for sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal, while in other places it is not. This means it is still legal in some places for landlords to refuse to rent to LGBT individuals. The varied laws can be confusing to landlords who are not paying attention to LGBT discrimination issues in housing across the country.
What the Law Says About LGBT Discrimination and Housing
Most landlords are familiar with the Fair Housing Act that lists certain protected classes from discrimination. These protected classes are race, color, national origin, sex, religion, disability and familial status. The Fair Housing Act does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and therefore such applicants and tenants are not protected from discrimination by landlords.
However, many states have enacted laws that forbid discrimination in housing situations based on sexual orientation and gender identity. A few states have laws that prohibit discrimination for sexual orientation only. The states are as follows:
• District of Columbia
• New Hampshire (sexual orientation only)
• New Jersey
• New Mexico
• New York
• Rhode Island
• Wisconsin (sexual orientation only)
In addition, many major cities have also passed laws that designate sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected class from housing discrimination. These cities include Chicago, Miami, New York and Seattle, just to name a few. The rest of the states have no such protections for LGBT renters and applicants, so landlords are within their rights to deny applications to them.
As the United States grows more accepting of and showing a greater tolerance for different sexual orientations, it’s expected that more cities and states will add protective laws in the near future. It’s up to landlords to stay on top of things in their communities to ensure they are compliant with the law.
Avoid All Discrimination With Set Applicant Criteria
Landlords should create a list of applicant criteria that firmly outlines everything they will consider when screening applicants. For most landlords, this means factors like income verification, certain income to rent percentages, minimum credit score, criminal history, rental history and employment confirmation. They should also consider any state and local occupancy requirements that the landlords must comply with. Of course, additions such as no smoking or no pets (allowing for service animals) can also apply as those can negatively affect the actual rental property and are not protected classes. Landlords should fairly apply all criteria to every applicant every time when selecting tenants .
Whether or not sexual orientation or gender identity is protected in their city or state, landlords can remain fair and consistent with all applicants and work toward finding and retaining those high quality tenants that every landlord dreams of.
Landlords that are interested in becoming more familiar with LGBT laws as they relate to housing in their area should check with their state’s Housing Authority.
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