Federal law does not protect against discrimination in the rental of housing based on profession or political affiliation. However, in some states and localities (California is a notable example), a landlord cannot hold a preference for one occupation over another, discriminate based on a tenant’s source of income or military status or service, discriminate by political affiliation, or discriminate by appearance (e.g., wearing a political t-shirt or hat).
Types of Discrimination
Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act covers more than just the process of trying to sign a lease. Based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability, a landlord cannot: refuse to rent housing; refuse to negotiate for housing; make housing unavailable; otherwise deny a dwelling; set different terms, conditions, or privileges for rental of a dwelling; provide different housing services or facilities; falsely deny that housing is available for rental; for profit, persuade homeowners to rent dwellings by suggesting that tenants of a particular protected class have moved, or are about to move into the neighborhood; or deny any tenant access to any organization, facility, or service related to the rental of dwellings, or discriminate against any tenant in the terms or conditions of such access.
Some states extend these rights to other protected groups. For example, California prohibits discrimination (as defined above) based on a person’s source of income.
Landlords can nearly always require tenants to show that they, or their guarantor, can pay rent. For example, in New York City, it’s common for landlords to ask tenants to show that their annual income equals 40-45 times the monthly rent. This obviously affects the kinds of jobs people can hold for certain housing but it’s legal.
Type of Job
Aside from income, landlords may try to deny strippers, lawyers, students, or other groups from housing based on their profession. Such discrimination is not prohibited by federal law, but some states and localities (e.g., California and New York City) prohibit discrimination based on the source of income, so long as it’s a legal source of income. Laws protecting illegal sources of income (e.g., prostitution or drug dealing) are rare or non-existent. The rules are still evolving where local laws conflict with federal laws (e.g., selling medical marijuana), but usually local courts tend to use local laws over national ones to determine legality when there’s a conflict. Lawful sources of income tend to be defined to include financial assistance programs, such as social security, unemployment benefits, and pensions.
If discrimination by the source of income is prohibited by local laws, it should be noted that discrimination is broader than simply denying housing. Once permitted, the landlord cannot treat tenants differently based on their source of income. For example, denying a tenant access to amenities based on their profession or because they pay rent through by unemployment benefits would be prohibited.
Political or Other Affiliation
Discrimination based on political or other group affiliation is not explicitly prohibited by federal law, but landlords that do so should be careful because it may overlap with other protected classes, like nationality or disability. For example, discriminating against members of Alcoholics Anonymous may be treated as discriminating against a mental disability or religion. A tenant may argue, based on the particular facts, that discriminating against the supporter of a politician is a subtle way of discriminating against religion or race.
State and Local Laws
Laws differ heavily by state, county, and city. Use RenterPeace to see more specific laws for to a given apartment and to see comments from people in your area.
Documenting the Problem
For most problems, tenants should document their issues, notify their landlord (document this too!), and stay informed about their rights. Renterpeace is a free website that helps with each step of this process. Tenants use RenterPeace to more easily see applicable laws, track their problems, and much more. There's a reason RenterPeace was selected "Best of" legal apps for both Android and iOS. It also includes household management tools, like a chore manager and bill tracker. Try it - you don't even to login first.
Using Property Management
To stay updated and organized about the problems in their apartments, landlords should use a property management system. Many are expensive or have high setup fees, but using RenterPeace for landlords is free. It's complete with legal compliance tips targeted to their problems, maintenance tracking, tenant screening, money-saving grant information, and tenant chat. It makes managing properties easier and staying updated about status of rental properties a breeze. Try it today.