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Discrimination When Renting an Apartment

It's my property, so I can rent to whomever I like." This attitude is understandable, but landlords must realize that today there are legal limits on the landlord's decisions. A landlord's tastes may be reasonable, strict, or quirky, but they cannot be based on race, religion, or other categories that tenant law protects.

* Can I pick and choose tenants as I like?
* What is "retaliatory eviction" all about?

Can I pick and choose tenants as I like?

Yes - within limits set by landlord law.

Federal, state, and local landlord laws make it illegal for landlords to "discriminate." But people sometimes say "That's discrimination!" without understanding what is prohibited.

Federal laws prevent landlords from discriminating on the grounds of race, religion, sex, ethnic background, and disability. Some state and local laws go further, prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of marital status, sexual orientation, presence of children, and age.

But so long as you are not discriminating on one of the listed grounds, you may rent to whomever you like. If you don't want smokers in your building, or if you see a prospective tenant as a poor credit risk (even if you're wrong), or if for some other, non prohibited reason you just don't like the person, there is no law to stop you from rejecting a tenant for that reason.

If you are threatened with a discrimination claim, see a lawyer right away. You might be facing a lawsuit for huge money damages.

What is "retaliatory eviction" all about?

Sometimes it seems that a landlord has a "right" to evict. He has given a proper notice to terminate a month-to-month tenancy, or a fixed term lease has expired. If the tenant doesn't leave, he will sue to evict, and the tenant's position seems hopeless. But even where it seems that the landlord's right to evict is absolute, the courts may refuse to help him if the reason underlying his desire to evict is to "retaliate" against the tenant for her exercise of some legal right.

Suppose the tenant has a month-to-month tenancy and the landlord refuses to fix a leaking roof. The tenant complains to the city's housing inspection department, and the landlord learns of the complaint. Not wanting such a troublemaker around anymore, he serves her with a notice terminating her tenancy. If she fails to leave and he sues to evict, the tenant may raise the defense of "retaliatory eviction." If she proves the landlord's reason (which might not be easy), the court will refuse to evict her. Evicting her in this situation would discourage other tenants from reporting code violations. Because code enforcement agencies depend (in part) on tenant complaints, and one of the basic purposes of the code enforcement program would be undermined. The court will refuse to help the landlord undermine the efforts of another government agency.


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