Restrictions on renting

Are there restrictions on who I could rent to?

Editors' Reply:

First, our answer will pertain only to the U.S. Other countries will have different laws.

We were assuming that you were talking about renting out places to live (residences), and we answered the question that way. Since that's the most likely meaning, let's still keep that information first.

In the U.S., federal law requires that landlords cannot discriminate when they are renting housing against "protected classes." These include race, color, national origin, gender, age, religion, handicap, or familial status. "Familial status" is government-speak for having a child or being pregnant, among other things.

There are a few exemptions from this fair housing law:

1) If you live in the building where you are also renting to others, and there are four or fewer housing units in the building, you may "discriminate," in other words, rent to whoever you want. So if you own a duplex, yes, you can rent to anyone and turn down anyone for any reason or no reason.

2) The law may not apply to a sale or renter if there is no broker involved. The laws really are meant to regulate the real estate industry more than individual property owners. Consult an attorney or legal aid in your own state if you can, to see how this would be regarded.

3) Private organizations and clubs that own housing are allowed to limit the occupancy to their own members. Once in a while we've seen this brought into play for ordinary housing. A frequently seen example is that a veterans' organization or other civic club may have a senior citizen apartment complex or living facility that only its older members can qualify for.

For more detailed information, see the Department of Housing and Urban Development's fair housing information page.

If you still have questions, we suggest that you contact the closest HUD office. There are several regional offices around the country, but often there are less well-staffed offices in the other major cities in the region. They can help with fair housing.

If you're talking about commercial property, probably you can rent to anyone you want to. Just be careful about discrimination on the basis of ethnicity and other protected classifications.

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