Pennsylvania law (and federal law) protects tenants from discrimination based on their sex or gender. This covers everything from offering lower rent for sexual favors to advertising men or women only apartments. Pennsylvania has no explicit protections for LGBT tenants, but federal and state protections against discriminating by one’s gender offers some indirect protections in certain cases. To be safe, landlords should be careful about treating LGBT tenants differently.


Pennsylvania law and federal law protect tenants from discrimination based on their sex (e.g., male, female). This protects tenants from most kinds of sexist acts, including advertising an apartment that’s for or not for a person based on their sex, building a place that is inaccessible, evicting a tenant based on their sex, discouraging tenants by renting by saying people of a certain sex live in the neighborhood, refusing to allow the tenant to make to make reasonable modifications to suit their sex, refusing to make reasonable accommodations based on a tenant’s sex, pressuring a tenant to rent or not rent based on people of a certain sex in the neighborhood, denying an applicant the opportunity to inspect the apartment based on their sex, denying an apartment or application based on their sex, charging different rent or offering different amenities based on sex, retaliating (e.g., raising the rent, evicting, cutting off services, or harassing a tenant) against a tenant for reporting a problem, denying a loan based on their sex, falsely stating an apartment is not available because of the tenant’s sex, asking about a tenant’s sex, and interfering with a tenant’s use and enjoyment of the property based on their sex. Most commonly, setting different guest policies for women, advertising an apartment for men or women only, and offering a reduction in rent for sexual favors all constitute discrimination based on one’s sex or gender. Typically, apartments with shared common areas (e.g., apartment with roommates or suitemates) are exempt. 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. , 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Sec. 955.3 .

Sexual Orientation

Pennsylvania does not have a law to specifically protect tenants from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. But tenants may have some protection under laws banning discrimination based on one’s sex. The Fair Housing Act protects tenants from discrimination based on their sex or gender. Do these protections apply to discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation (since one’s sexual orientation arguably involves one’s sex or gender)? It’s unclear in Pennsylvania and depends on the circumstance. Other states have ruled in conflicting ways on this issue. A few of the US Circuits have ruled that sexual orientation is covered under the federal or state rule prohibiting gender discrimination (see Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College and more recently, Wetzel v. Glen St. Andrew Living Community ). Other states have ruled the opposite Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp. . The issue could ultimately be decided either way in Pennsylvania.

Gender Identity

Pennsylvania offers no direct protection from discrimination against tenants who identify as a different gender than their biological sex. However, tenants may be able to rely on federal or state protections that prohibit landlords from discriminating against one’s sex. As stated on the Housing and Urban Development website : “The Fair Housing Act does not specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited bases. However, discrimination against a lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) person may be covered by the Fair Housing Act if it is based on nonconformity with gender stereotypes. For example, if a housing provider refuses to rent to an LGBT person because he believes the person acts in a manner that does not conform to his notion of how a person of a particular sex should act, the person may pursue the matter as a violation of the Fair Housing Act’s prohibition of sex.” HUD Website. For this reason, landlords should be very cautious about denying housing or otherwise providing unequal treatment towards tenants with varying gender identities.

Sex to Pay Rent

Federal and state law protects tenants from discrimination based on their sex. Offers or propositions to pay rent (or a part of the rent) through sexual favors qualify as a form of sexual discrimination. PTLA.

Single-Sex Dorm Exception

Pennsylvania has an exception to the rule against discriminating by sex or gender for single-sex dorms. This does not apply to private or other types of housing. 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. .


Tenants may report sexual discrimination to the federal government directly. They also have the option in Pennsylvania to report it to state authorities. Tenants may choose to report the problem to both authorities. If the issue is LGBT-related, it’s better for tenants to report the problem to the state if they have strong protections for that LGBT issue and to the federal government if they don’t.

What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the federal government? The most recent year we have data is from 2016. In 2016, 63.4% (53.1% from Pennsylvania) of discrimination cases were resolved in the year they were filed. 17 out of the 179 discrimination complaints from Pennsylvania were about sexist discriminatory practices. Landlords that violate the federal Fair Housing Act can face civil penalties up to $16,000 for a first violation and $65,000 for future violations (each act of discrimination is a separate violation). In cases where the Justice Department is involved, civil penalties may rise to $100,000 per violation and federal courts can add additional damages. Landlords should also keep in mind the time and costs involved in defending against an action by the federal government. About 36% of complaints end up with a charge or settlement, based on 2016 data.

What happens when a tenant reports a problem to the authorities of Pennsylvania or a local government? They may ask the tenant for information to help bring the case, including any evidence (e.g., emails and pictures). If the government finds there’s sufficient information between the tenant’s complaint (as well as complaints from other tenants), the landlord may be charged and taken to court to defend themselves. Landlords will likely receive fines if they lose. The amount of the fines will be determined in part by the severity of the issue. Fines increase significantly for repeat offenders. In addition, landlords may serve prison time for severe cases, as Pennsylvania considers discriminatory practices a criminal act in some cases. It can be a misdemeanor or a felony. 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Sec. 959.3 .

Reporting a Violation

Tenants may report violations of federal laws (i.e., discrimination against children and families) through the HUD website – it can be done online or via phone. Tenants can report issues to their state government by looking at the state website. A google search for “report fair housing violation in Pennsylvania” will likely provide applicable information. In either case, tenants may be able to call the number on the page to ask whether their situation legally qualifies as rental discrimination.

Retaliation by the Landlord

Federal law (the Housing Act ) makes it illegal for landlords to harass a tenant in retaliation for reporting a problem. Examples of such harassment may include raising the rent or threatening to evict the tenant. Each such attempt is an additional violation. These protections do not apply if the tenant complained about something that they don’t have right to, so tenants should know whether it’s a violation. 35 such cases were filed with the federal government from in last year we have data (2016). Dept of Housing and Urban Development.