Rental Discrimination: Family, Pregnancy, or Children

The Fair Housing Act prohibits a landlord from discriminating in renting based on pregnancy, households with minor children, or households securing the legal custody of a minor child. Public amenities in an apartment complex cannot discriminate against children (e.g., “No children in the pool area”).  Federal law does not protect against discrimination in the rental of housing based on marital status, but some states and local laws do.

Prohibited Discrimination

Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act covers more than just the process of trying to sign a lease. Based on familial status, 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. For example, a landlord may not restrict tenants with children to a single portion of a complex.

Rights of Children

Discriminating against children is often an overlooked aspect of the Fair Housing Act. In addition to asking about children, landlords must also treat apartments with children equally as those without children. For example, prohibiting children from skateboarding or posting a “No children allowed” sign in front of a building laundry room is forbidden. A useful exercise is to mentally replace the word “children” with a specific race, and if the result seems racist or offensive, then a similar restriction against children is likely prohibited by the Fair Housing Act. For example, a “No Asians allowed” would be racist so therefore “No children allowed” will likely be prohibited by the Fair Housing Act.

Exceptions

The Fair Housing Act rental discrimination rules do not apply to owner-occupied buildings with less than five units, single-family housing sold or rented without the use of a broker, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members. Some senior housing facilities or communities can lawfully refuse to rent dwellings to families with minor children.

Filing a Complaint

Under the Fair Housing Act, victims of rental discrimination have one year to file an administrative complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and two years to file a private lawsuit. Tenants can learn more about how to file a complaint here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp/complaint-process. To file a complaint under state laws (i.e., for discrimination based on immigration or citizenship status), tenants should contact their state or local housing authorities.

Do Landlords Have to Fix TVs and Electronics?

Televisions and other electronics are usually considered “amenities.” The landlord is not required by most state laws to fix or replace a broken amenity unless it’s required by the lease. If the lease is silent, look to state and local laws. In some states, landlords who supply amenities may be responsible for their maintenance.

Fixing Amenities

Most states don’t require landlords to fix amenities unless they promised to do so in their lease. However, it is common for landlords to repair these amenities because the cost of finding new tenants to move into an apartment without working kitchen amenities is high and can exceed the cost of making the repairs. Some states, especially ones with large tenant populations, may require landlords to fix any amenities that were provided when the tenant moved in. Alternatively, many tenants and landlords agree to a reduction in rent in exchange for an appliance that no longer functions, especially in luxury building or when the rent is high.

Smart Homes

Landlords generally need to fix smart home devices to the extent they affect basic well-being. For example, if the apartment comes with a digital thermostat which breaks or is hacked, the landlord remains responsible in nearly every state for ensuring that the home is still at a livable temperature (Arkansas is an exception). This means the landlord can choose to fix the digital thermostat or find another solution to regulate the temperature in the home. The same rule (called the “implied warranty of habitability”) applies to any digital device that maintains essential utilities, such as digital locks or a smart faucet. Landlords are not responsible for items such as Google Home or Alexa which are broken because they are not essential to providing essential services like water, food, and shelter.

Do Landlords Have to Fix Laundry Machines?

Washing and drying machines are usually considered “amenities” and landlords are in most states, landlords not required to make fixes to amenities unless the lease says it’s the landlord’s responsibility. However, some states require landlords to maintain any appliances provided with the apartment.

Amenities

Most states don’t require landlords to fix amenities unless they promised to do so in their lease. However, it is common for landlords to repair these amenities because the cost of finding new tenants to move into an apartment without working kitchen amenities is high and can exceed the cost of making the repairs. Some states (especially states with heavy tenant populations) may require landlords to fix any amenities that were provided when the tenant moved in. Alternatively, many tenants and landlords agree to a reduction in rent in exchange for an appliance that no longer functions.

Communal Laundry Facilities

A residential building may have laundry facilities outside of the unit that tenants may use. Generally, a landlord retains control over these facilities and must keep them in reasonably safe condition. A landlord may be liable for injuries suffered because of the item’s disrepair and defects, or if the communal area is otherwise dangerous.

Landlords often specify in rental agreements that the tenant’s permission to use these facilities is a license, which the landlord can revoke for any reason. However, some state statutes or local codes may define the rented premises (i.e., the apartment) to include any communal areas of the property. In those jurisdictions, the tenant and landlord should treat a broken laundry machine the same way they would if it was in the tenant’s apartment (see above) – an area where a landlord cannot deny access except for health or safety reasons.

Do Landlords Have to Fix Garbage Disposals?

Landlords are not generally required by law to fix garbage disposals. However, some state or local laws require it and some leases require the landlord will fix issues caused by normal wear and tear.

Requirement to Fix

Landlords are not typically required to provide garbage disposals, depending heavily on the jurisdiction. They are considered amenities, which most states do not require landlords to fix. However, some areas require that landlords fix any appliances that came with the apartment which would obligate the landlord to fix the garbage disposal if it was included with the apartment.

Caused by Tenant

Many garbage disposal issues are caused by the tenant’s misuse of the device, not normal and tear. For example, many tenants try to put large food items down the disposal, using it as a shredder for food. A plumber should be able to diagnose of the cause of the issue. If the tenant’s misuse caused the issue, the landlord is not required to fix it.

Do Landlords Have to Fix Kitchen Appliances?

Most states don’t require landlords to fix broken or missing kitchen appliances or “amenities”. However, the lease or rental agreement may require either the tenant or the landlord fix the amenity – these agreements are usually enforceable. Some states require landlords who supply amenities to maintain them. Any broken appliances that cause a danger to the tenant must be fixed or removed by the landlord at their expense.

Check the Lease

First, check the lease because the terms of the lease typically override any default state or laws about appliances.

Despite any legal requirements, most tenants and landlords follow the principle that if the apartment came with amenity, then the landlord fixes the appliance when it breaks from normal wear and tear. Part of the reason is that tenants generally expect working kitchen appliances when renting a place. When the current tenants move out, the landlord may have a tough time renting to new tenants if things are broken. Because the landlord is typically incentivized to repair the problem eventually, it makes sense most of the time to fix it immediately for the benefit of the current tenants.

Broken Amenities – No Lease

Most states don’t require landlords to fix amenities unless they promised to do so in their lease. However, it is common for landlords to repair these amenities because the cost of finding new tenants to move into an apartment without working kitchen amenities is high and can exceed the cost of making the repairs. Some states, especially states with heavy tenant populations, may require landlords to fix any amenities that were provided when the tenant moved in. Alternatively, many tenants and landlords agree to a reduction in rent in exchange for an appliance that no longer functions.

Dangerous Situations

Landlords are generally required to fix appliances at their own cost if it causes a danger to tenants, regardless of what’s in the lease. For example, a broken stove that’s leaking gas needs to be fixed by the landlord such that the hazard of fire is eliminated.

In every state except Arkansas, leases include an “implied warranty of habitability” which requires apartments to be safe and livable. It exists as a tenant right even if there is no written lease, it’s not mentioned in the lease, or even despite a lease that says the landlord is not responsible. The exact details of what needs to be fixed to keep the apartment safe and livable depends heavily by state, but the key factors are health and safety (not comfort, annoyance, or quality). The landlord cannot charge tenants for these repairs and tenants are free to break a lease if the landlord doesn’t fix the problem in a reasonable time (some jurisdictions specify exact time periods by which landlords must fix issues). Some dangerous conditions caused by appliances may be a violation of the implied warranty, depending the state.

In breaking the lease and moving out, tenants are entitled to their deposit back, but in practicality, it may prove difficult to get the landlord to hand back the money. Tenants should be careful when breaking a lease to move out. Their next landlord may discover the incident in the tenant’s rental history, so they should be prepared with the documented story of why it was necessary to move out.

Tenant’s Fault

Landlords are generally not required to fix any appliance where the tenant is responsible for its breaking. Most commonly, this occurs when tenants misuse garbage disposals, but misuse of any appliance is usually the responsibility of the tenant. In the rare case that a lease explicitly says that the landlord is responsible for repairs regardless of who’s at fault, the landlord would be required to fix the problem.

Do Landlords Have to Maintain Furnishings?

Landlords may provide fully or partially furnished rental units to tenants, usually at higher rents and security deposits. Especially in student housing, this may include beds, couches, paintings, tables, dressers, chairs, and similar furniture. However, landlords are not typically required under most state laws to replace furnishings unless it says so in the lease. A few jurisdictions require landlords to maintain any amenities or furnishings that were provided when the unit was rented.

Tenant Damage and Misuse

Tenants are responsible for keeping the rental unit and furnishings clean and free from damage beyond reasonable wear and tear. Upon moving out, if the tenant has negligently or deliberately caused damage to furnishings beyond normal wear and tear, a landlord may deduct the cost of repair from the tenant’s security deposit.

Maintenance and Fixing

Because furnishings are difficult to destroy on their own, it’s usually assumed that a broken couch, bed, or similar furnishing is the fault of the tenant. If the damage is caused by the tenant, the landlord is not required to fix the problem unless the lease explicitly requires them to.

In some cases, a tenant may be able to show that the furnishing broke through no fault of their own and that it needs repair from ordinary wear and tear. In such cases, most states DON’T require landlords to maintain furnishings unless they promised to do so in their lease. Some states, especially ones with large tenant populations, may require landlords to fix any amenities that were provided when the tenant moved in. Alternatively, many tenants and landlords agree to a reduction in rent in exchange for a broken furnishing. See your state and local laws for more detail.