Can a Landlord Discriminate Against You Based on Age?

Do you feel like your landlord has discriminated against you because of your age?

Even with all of the laws, protections, and social stigma against discrimination in general, age discrimination seems to fly under the radar for many people.

It’s a terrible shame because people who are older may be just as vulnerable and deserving of equal rights as other protected classes.

In this article, I am going to answer the question of whether a landlord can discriminate against you based on age.

I will also cover the legal landscape surrounding age discrimination in housing (particularly rental housing), including what exactly may be prohibited, and what you can do if you feel like you have been the victim of illegal age discrimination.

If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:

While age is not a protected class under the Fair Housing Act, many states have adopted their own fair housing laws that include antidiscrimination protection for the elderly. Failing to comply with such laws could result in significant penalties, lawsuits, or other liability for the discriminatory landlord.

Ok, we’ve got a lot to cover, so let’s get into it.

The information contained in this post is for informational purposes only.  It is not legal advice.  You should seek the advice of a qualified legal professional before making any decisions relating to the topics covered by this article.

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The Fair Housing Act and State Laws on Age Discrimination

The Fair Housing Act (FHA) is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. The FHA applies to most rental properties, including apartments, condominiums, and single-family homes. Source

As you can see, the FHA does not explicitly prohibit age discrimination.

However, some states have put in place their own fair housing laws, which may include protection against age discrimination. For example, Virginia prohibits discrimination against the elderly (age 55 or older) in housing.

Other states have adopted a similar stance. Based on what I could find, these states are as follows:

  • Alaska
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Massachusetts
  • Michigan
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • North Dakota
  • Oklahoma
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin

In some cases, a landlord may find themselves in violation of state housing laws even though that state does not have an explicit age discrimination provision.

For example, in California, landlords may not discriminate in housing based on the source of income. That means that a landlord could find themselves in hot water if they discriminated against an elderly applicant because they were receiving social security benefits as their source of income.

The Flip Side: Now it is worth noting that you can be discriminated against if you are too young in some cases. For example, a 55 or older type community may exclude you and that would be protected under the Fair Housing Act, as well as various state laws. Source

Common Examples of Age Discrimination in Renting

How can you identify if you have been the victim of age discrimination? Unfortunately, it comes in many forms, but here are some of the most common examples of age discrimination.

Refusing to Rent to Elders

Some landlords may flat-out refuse to rent to seniors.

They may deny them even if they have good credit standing, solid references, and stable income. Obviously, that’s one of the clearest indicators of age-based discrimination.

Requiring More Stringent Terms and Conditions for Elders

Whether it’s requiring a larger security deposit, charging higher rent, insisting on shorter lease terms, or using different standards when evaluating an elderly applicant, a landlord can make it harder for the senior applicant to obtain housing by requiring more demanding terms or conditions for tenancy.

Steering Applicants Away From Certain Areas and Towards Others

Another telltale sign of discrimination is when you steer someone away from a particular area or community. For example, if a landlord’s apartment is catering towards a young, hip crowd in an urban center, they may not want to disturb that vibe by having a senior tenant move in.

Obviously, that’s not right and may be illegal depending on applicable laws.

Limiting Access to Amenities

Everyone should be able to use pools, fitness centers, or community rooms that are available to members of a housing community. If a landlord does not grant access to these amenities because of age, that’s another clear sign of discrimination. 

What Can You Do If You Feel Like You Have Been the Victim of Illegal Age Discrimination?

Step 1: Research the Law

The first thing you want to do is make sure that the landlord’s behavior rises to the level of prohibited discrimination. As mentioned, state and local laws may differ in this area. Conduct some research or hire a lawyer to help you.

For your convenience, here’s our 50 state reference table (including D.C.) that will link you to the official landlord tenant laws of your state.

If you prefer to have a lawyer assist you, I would try JustAnswer. They boast access to thousands of highly-rated, verified real estate lawyers whom you can connect with via their unlimited chat service.

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Step 2: Contact the Landlord and Express Your Concern

If your research indicates that your landlord has acted in an unlawful manner, you may want to contact them and raise your concerns. In some cases, they may have had a valid reason for their actions that had nothing to do with your age.

See if you can work out an arrangement with the landlord that works for both of you. After all, lawsuits can be expensive and may not be worth the trouble.

Step 3: File a Complaint or Initiate a Lawsuit

If all else fails, you can certainly consider taking more formal action against the landlord. An easy first step is to contact your local tenants rights organization and see if they can offer advice on the best way to proceed.

You can also file a complaint directly with your local housing authority. A lawsuit is also an option, but if you choose to hire a lawyer to represent you in the action, the costs can add up pretty quickly.

Wrapping Up

So there you have it – a clear analysis of whether a landlord can discriminate against you based on age. Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!