In today’s rental economy, splitting an apartment or house with a roommate can make a lot of sense financially.
After all, rents have been skyrocketing in many areas of the country, and having someone to share the bill on a huge rental payment can allow you to live in a bigger place (and in a nicer area) than if you were living alone.
But many landlords don’t like roommate arrangements because they view them as less stable than tenants who are all part of a single family unit.
But is a landlord actually allowed to refuse to rent to roommates?
In this article, I am going to answer that question. I will provide (in simple terms) the legal landscape around the issue, including what federal law says about housing discrimination in the rental arena, as well as other relevant factors that go into answering this question.
I will also provide some helpful tips that you can use to make your rental application (with your roommate) as attractive as possible to a landlord, so you can secure that perfect rental.
If you don’t have the time to read through it all, here’s a short answer to the question:
Landlords can refuse to rent to roommates if they don’t meet valid application screening requirements or if the number of roommates would violate occupancy limits (or for other legal reasons). However, they may not discriminate against roommates on illegal grounds, such as due to sexual orientation.
Ok, 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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What Does the Law Say?
The key federal law governing housing discrimination in rental arrangements is the Fair Housing Act.
In short, the law says that landlords can’t discriminate against tenants on the following grounds:
- National Origin
- Sex (including gender identity and sexual orientation)
- Familial Status
Now, as you can see, roommates are not included in this list.
However, some may argue that discrimination based on familial status can be interpreted to include discrimination against roommates because a landlord is discriminating against them because their status is not a “family”.
On its face, it seems like a reasonable argument, but the FHA guidance on this issue is pretty clear. Familial status protections are targeted to address discrimination against families with children. Source.
But that’s not necessarily the end of the analysis. There may be other grounds that protect against discrimination against roommates.
For example, if you and your roommate are same-sex partners, the landlord may not discriminate against you on those grounds because you will be protected under the sexual orientation prong of the FHA.
Finally, there may also be state and local laws that govern this issue, so it makes sense to familiarize yourself with the applicable laws in your area (or have a lawyer help you navigate through it).
For example, some state or local laws could prohibit discrimination based on factors like marital status (as well as sexual orientation, or gender identity, which we already highlighted).
There can be a lot of layers to all of this and finding the definitive answer for your situation may require personalized legal analysis.
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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When Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent to Roommates?
Now, as I mentioned at the top, there are situations where a landlord is allowed to reject an application by roommates without running the risk of violating any anti-discrimination laws.
The most common example is if either of the tenants fails to meet the landlord’s legal and objective screening requirements.
I am talking about things like minimum income requirements, minimum credit score, clean rental history (no evictions, etc.), and other common screening factors that landlords employ.
Another example is if the roommate situation would violate local housing codes around how many people can occupy the premises.
For example, many municipalities have limits on how many non-related people can live in a single dwelling. If you are intending to have 13 roommates share a two bedroom condo, you are likely going to get rejected on this basis.
Tips to Persuade a Landlord to Accept You and Your Roommate
Ok, so let’s say that you have not been having a lot of luck securing a good rental for you and your roommate(s).
What can you do to improve your chances? Well, the first thing you have to understand is why a landlord may want to rent to a family over roommates.
Why Do Some Landlords Prefer Families Over Roommates?
As I mentioned at the top, some landlords prefer the stability of a family over roommates.
That’s because roommates may have a falling out. Or one of them may get a job someplace else or want to move in with a boyfriend or girlfriend. There are a host of reasons why a roommate situation may be viewed as less stable than a nuclear family.
And because roommates often do not have children, they tend to have fewer reservations about moving because they don’t worry about how doing so will disrupt a child’s stability when it comes to schools and their circle of friends.
Why does stability matter?
Because every time a tenant moves out, landlords have to incur costs to freshen up the place and advertise for a new renter. Plus, they also run the risk of the unit being vacant (and not bringing in rent) while they try to find a replacement tenant.
So now that you know the reasons underlying why a landlord may reject your application, we can better target potential solutions. Let’s turn to that.
1. Try to Find Landlords Who Are Mom and Pop Operators
Large property management companies are difficult to deal with, and they usually show little sympathy. They must process hundreds of applications each month, so they may not even be willing to entertain your story.
A mom and pop operator, on the other hand, may only process applications on a periodic basis and will not be as jaded. They may be lot more understanding of your position and they may be more flexible when it comes to adhering to policies.
2. Offer to Sign Up for a Long Term Lease
As we just discussed, one of the major concerns around renting to roommates is their perceived lack of stability.
An easy way to remedy that is to offer to sign up for a longer term lease (like two years). This will go a long way toward soothing any concerns around stability of the rental arrangement and can put you at the top of the list.
3. Offer to Pay More
Obviously, offering to pay a higher rent is one technique to entice a skeptical landlord.
Landlords are in this business to make money, so offering a higher rent is definitely going to get their attention.
Other possibilities include paying a larger security deposit – this will allow a landlord to have greater peace of mind with respect to your rental arrangement because they can more easily recover any damages or lost rent if the roommate situation doesn’t work out.
4. Find a Rental That Has Been on the Market For a While
Many renters get so wrapped up in their own worries that they forget that the landlord may have worries as well. For example, if a rental has been sitting on the market for a long time, that is likely creating tremendous financial pressure for the landlord.
They still have to make mortgage payments and other bills. If no rent is coming in to offset those expenses, the landlord may be facing foreclosure.
How do you take advantage of this? Go online to places like zillow.com. They will show how long a property has been on the rental market (you can sort by “Newest” and work from the bottom on the results)
Properties that have been on the market for multiple months can be great targets for you.
After all, they are losing money every day that the property sits vacant and you could be the answer to their prayer!
So there you have it – a detailed discussion of whether a landlord can refuse to rent to roommates and some tips you can use to help you get your joint application approved.
Hope this has been helpful and happy renting!