Question: I recently separated from my husband. Right now my 10-year-old son and I are living with my parents, but we need to find our own place to live. I can't afford to pay much rent until I get a job, but I was hoping to find a furnished efficiency or one-bedroom apartment. I found an ad for a one-bedroom apartment that I can afford. When I called the owner to arrange to see the place, I mentioned my son. He then told me he didn't feel comfortable renting the place to me because he thought my son should have his own bedroom. Is this legal?
Answer: Families with children are protected from discrimination under the fair housing laws. This means that a housing provider cannot refuse to rent to a prospective tenant because that applicant has one or more children younger than 18, or treat an applicant with children any differently from an applicant without children. These familial status protections mean that this housing provider cannot insist your son have his own bedroom.
Federal government occupancy standards require housing providers to allow two occupants in a one-bedroom apartment. Because these standards allow any two people to share the one bedroom, the housing provider has engaged in discrimination by deciding that a mother and son do not have the same right. For more details, contact your local fair housing agency.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a nonprofit agency providing tenant-landlord and fair housing counseling in four Bay Area counties. To submit a question, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.