Sexual Orientation Discrimination in Rental Housing
Know your rights if a landlord won't rent to you, or tries to evict you, because you are gay or lesbian.
Most sensible landlords care more about whether you pay the rent on time and take good care of the property than whom you share your life with. Unfortunately, however, you may encounter some landlords who are inappropriately nosey or flat-out prejudiced. You may encounter pointed questions when you apply for a rental ("Are you two, like, together?"), or may receive a termination notice from a landlord who has just learned that your relationship with your roommate is not platonic. What you can do in response depends on three things:
If a Landlord Won't Rent To You
First, suppose that you're denied a rental at the application stage. Federal law does not protect gays, lesbians or transgendered people from discrimination by landlords. Several states and many cities, however, have passed laws that do. California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin have laws prohibiting discrimination against gays or lesbians; Connecticut, Minnesota and Rhode Island also protect transgendered folks. In addition, many cities have passed laws that make discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation illegal, including Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New York, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Seattle. If you don't live in a state or city that extends protection, there's not much you can do besides, perhaps, attempting to reason with the landlord.
If You Already Have a Lease
If you encounter discrimination after your tenancy has begun, the picture may improve dramatically. If you have a lease, your rental cannot be terminated unless you have broken an important lease clause (such as failing to pay rent or keeping a pet in violation of a no-pets rule) or committed an illegal act. Most lease clauses do not expressly address whom you share your bed with; and most states have tossed out their anti-sodomy and fornication laws. So, as long as your lease has no clause prohibiting certain types of sexual behavior and you don't live in a state that makes sodomy or unmarried sex illegal, a landlord who attempts to evict you solely on the grounds of your sexual orientation would have a hard time succeeding. This result would be true even for tenants who live in cities or states that don't prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. Those that live in states that do would have an even stronger case.
If You Have a Month-to-Month Rental Agreement
Tenants with month-to-month rental agreements, however, may be in greater danger of eviction. In a month-to-month tenancy, a landlord may terminate the agreement by giving the required notice, which is 30 days in most states. The landlord need not give a reason for the termination, but he may not terminate for a discriminatory reason if you have antidiscrimination protection by virtue of a state or local law. If you aren't protected, however, the landlord is free to act on his whims or beliefs.
Landlords have attempted to trump antidiscrimination laws by relying on various state and federal freedom of religion laws. A court in Alaska prohibited this end-run, but another court in North Dakota allowed it. (Swanner v. Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, 874 P.2d 274 (1994); North Dakota Fair Housing Council, Inc. v. Peterson, 625 N.W.2d 551 (2001). In both cases, however, the courts were grappling with renting to unmarried heterosexual couples. There are no reported cases dealing specifically with a landlord's attempt to use a religious freedom law to protect sexual orientation discrimination.
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