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Few allowances for gender bias under fair-housing rules

Seeking a tenant for a dwelling separate from the one occupied by the landlord does not qualify as an exception.

July 18, 2010

Question: I live in a house with a cottage, which I had been renting to my sister and her family until they moved out of state. I am a single mother with a young daughter and cannot pay my mortgage without the rental income from the cottage. For our personal comfort and safety, I'd like to place an ad stating my preference for a female tenant. I know that there are laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender, but I don't think those laws should apply to someone like me who is just renting out a cottage. Will I be allowed to seek only a female tenant?

Answer: Fair-housing laws state that housing providers cannot discriminate against a tenant based on his or her gender and this includes refusing to rent because of the applicant's gender. To protect access to housing, the scope of these laws is very broad.

The laws against gender discrimination apply to all housing except the following: a home in which the landlord lives and rents out only one room; where the renters will be sharing a living space with the landlord; single-sex dormitories at colleges or other educational institutions.

Your cottage does not fall within these very narrow exceptions, which means you must treat all potential tenants equally, regardless of gender.

Martin Eichner, Project Sentinel

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mediation service. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.

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