Question: After weeks of viewing potential apartments, my boyfriend and I finally found a place we both love. When we paid the application fees and turned in our application, the rental agent threw a wrench into the process. He said that because we were not married, each of our incomes would have to be equal to or greater than three times the rent in order to qualify. I tried to point out that this requirement was unfair, but the agent said company policy was very clear for unmarried couples. He said the company had learned the hard way that unmarried couples could break up at any time, which justified the policy. We don't want to lose this apartment, but I still want to know: Is this policy legal?
Answer: Under California law, it is not legal for a landlord to have different income requirements for married and unmarried couples. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits landlords, real estate agents, home sellers and banks from discriminating based on marital status. This means that housing providers cannot refuse to deal with or impose different terms or conditions on people based on whether they are married, separated, divorced or single.
If the company wants to enforce a policy requiring that the household income of applicants equal three times the rent, that policy must be enforced for all applicants, regardless of their marital status.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.