What Single People Should Know About Fair Housing Laws

Woman using laptop on fire escape
Blend Images - Peter Dressel/Getty Images

Many unmarried people look for an apartment. If you're one of them and you would like to live with other single people, you might wonder if there are apartment communities out there that limit residency to single folks. You might also be curious as to whether the fact that you're single gives you any protection against housing discrimination.

Here's what you need to know about how the law affects you if you're single and looking for an apartment.

Can a Landlord Refuse to Rent to Prospects Because They're Single?

Maybe. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) doesn't protect people based on whether they're married or single. However, some states—such as Alaska and Massachusetts—and municipalities have added "marital status" as a protected class to their own fair housing laws. If marital status is protected where you live, then a landlord can't turn you away simply because you're single.

Discrimination against prospective tenants who are single is probably most common when it comes to renting to students (who are most often single).

While some local laws ban discrimination based on student status, this practice is legal in most of the United States. Many landlords refuse to rent to students (even with guarantors) because they're concerned about their ability to meet rent payments, keep the rental in good condition, plus they wish to avoid a high turnover rate. Students who are married, however, often come across as more stable and responsible to landlords, and a non-student spouse's income may alleviate a landlord's financial concerns.

Can a Landlord Choose to Rent Only to Singles?

No. Landlords who sense a demand for singles-only communities and wish to distinguish their buildings in this way can't proceed. First, marital status may be protected under state or local fair housing law, which would bar landlords from turning away prospects simply because they're not single.

But even if marital status isn't protected, landlords who turn away prospects with children risk violations of the FHA's ban on familial status discrimination. If single parents or couples wish to rent with their children, landlords can't deny them housing on account of their kids.

Note that the law doesn't require landlords to recruit families with children to be tenants actively, nor does it require landlords to let rentals go vacant if there are only single prospects vying for them. Also, if two single roommates prove themselves to be financially qualified for an apartment while a family with children doesn't pass muster, the landlord needn't sign a lease with the family to comply with the FHA.

As a result of all this, it's possible that an apartment community can wind up with a sizable number of single people as tenants.