D.C. Rules on Landlords Discriminating By Age (The Elderly, Minors, and Students)

DC law has protections against landlords discriminating by age, including the elderly, minors, and students. Discrimination includes not just denying a housing application, but also nearly every type of unequal treatment like charging different rents or segregating people in different sections of a building by age.

Protected Classes

The  District of Columbia Human Rights Act of 1977 explicitly prohibits discrimination of age (defined as 18 and over), families (which covers children), and matriculation (students, especially those in college).

Discriminatory Acts

Landlords are forbidden from discriminating against the protected classes. Acts of discrimination are defined very broadly, not just covering denial of housing but also:

  • Refusing housing to someone because of one of the traits;
  • Making housing unavailable to any person because of their traits;
  • Advertising a preference or dislike for a group because of their traits;
  • Falsely telling someone housing is unavailable because of their traits;
  • Establishing different terms or conditions because of their traits;
  • Providing different housing, units or services (such as repairs) because of particular traits;
  • Urging someone to move to a specific area because of their traits;
  • Persuading owners to sell because people of a particular trait are moving into the neighborhood;
  • Refusing to make a loan because of a person’s traits;
  • Providing inaccurate or different information depending on the traits; or
  • Retaliating against someone for filing a complaint or acting as a witness.

Examples

Landlords violate the D.C. fair housing protection laws by separating buildings by age, prohibiting younger tenants from accessing amenities, refusing to rent to elderly, stating a preference for younger or older tenants, or charging more to someone because they are young, old, or a student.

Exemptions

There are two exemptions to the Fair Housing Act and D.C. laws:

The Mrs. Murphy exemption is intended to cover situations like when a hypothetical old lady converts part of her home to a rental to make supplemental income. Specifically, most of the Fair Housing Act doesn’t apply when the owner lives in the home or building and has 4 or fewer families in the building.

The second exemption is to reduce the compliance burden for landlords who are renting out their secondary homes. Specifically, it applies to single-family apartments where the private, individual landlord owns 3 or fewer single-family homes at the same time. The exemption doesn’t cover discriminatory advertising and doesn’t apply when a broker, agent, or salesperson is used.

Reporting Discrimination

Tenants can file a complaint via mail, online, or in person at 441 4th Street NW, Suite 570N, Washington, DC 2000. Specific questions by landlords or tenants about housing discrimination can be answered at (202) 727-4559. https://ohr.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/ohr/publication/attachments/FairHousingoster_2016.pdf.

Rental Discrimination: Age

While federal law doesn’t protect against discrimination against age, some state laws prohibit landlords from doing so (e.g., New York City). Additionally, some jurisdictions forbid discrimination based on appearance. Landlords violate such state laws if applicants are suddenly denied when they appear to sign the lease. For example, it may be illegal to deny a rental because a tenant looks old or has a certain hairstyle/piercing.

Prohibited Discrimination

Discrimination under the Fair Housing Act covers more than just the process of trying to sign a lease. Based on the presence of children (including pregnancy), 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.

Splitting Tenants by Age

Often, young tenants and older tenants have different tolerances for noise and have other differing expectations of a rental property. Under federal law, landlords are free to divide younger and elder tenants into different sections of a building, so long as it doesn’t make any distinctions between tenants with children and tenants without. Some state and local laws may have additional restrictions and may prohibit such divisions.

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.

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.