How can I avoid renting to roommates in Califronia?

11 Replies

Hello, I am trying to rent my 3br house in SF bay area, and would like a family or an individual rent it, but I have had multiple calls from roommates who want to rent my house together. I really do not like 5 adults live in my property as there will be too much hassle and too many parties, cars, too many boyfriend/girlfriends not on lease....But do not know how to avoid them without being accused of discrimination.  thanks

The answer is to develop a policy forbidding certain numbers of unrelated people. This is completely legal and has withstood many court cases. Fort Collins, Colorado probably has the best policy. I mirrored mine after theirs. 

Under this ordinance the following scenarios are allowed:

  • a family (of any size and configuration)
  • a family (of any size and configuration) and their nanny
  • a family (of any size and configuration) and an exchange student
  • two single parents, their kids, and a friend
  • two siblings and one friend
  • two married couples as long as a familial relationship exists linking the two couples

These are not allowed:

  • two couples, married or not, with no familial relationship linking couple A to couple B
  • two siblings and their two or more friends
  • a family (of any size), a caretaker, and an exchange student

It sounds complicated but it's very simple. Allow two RELATED people (by blood or marriage) plus one additional person. 

The tricky part is that you have to also allow their children. You could have two brothers, both with two kids, and a friend with two kids. That's three adults (two of them related by blood) and six children! Can you imagine cramming nine people into a three-bedroom apartment?

Fortunately, you can also set occupancy limits. You can read about it directly from HUD in the Keating Memo that was written in 1998 under President Bill Clinton.

You have to justify your reasoning. My policy is no more than two persons per bedroom (not counting children under two years old). I would not allow a family with four children to rent a two-bedroom apartment but they could rent a three-bedroom. However, you have to take into consideration the overall size of the bedrooms, the size of the whole living space, and any areas that could be used as sleeping space. A three bedroom home with an office could qualify as four bedrooms. A 2,000 sq.ft. 3bed/2bath home may be able to house an extra person or two when compared to a 1,200 sq.ft. 3bed/2bath. You could also limit the occupancy based on the capacity of septic or other systems. If the septic was designed for a 1bed/1bath, 800sq.ft. home that now has an additional 800sq.ft. built on, you could still limit occupancy to two people because the septic can't handle more than that.

In my previous example, I had two brothers, a friend, and six children. My "You Plus Two" policy requires me to accept them, but my occupancy limit requires them to rent a home with five or more bedrooms. 

If you combine these into a single policy, you'll wipe out a TON of problems in the future.

Sorry, one last thing. The best way to avoid discrimination is to have a written policy. If it's in writing, you can give the exact same answer to everyone, which demonstrates you are treating everyone equally and honestly. 

Nathan makes superb points above. Especially the "put it all in writing" part. But, let me color in the discussion from the other side.

I've rented in houses for the past 9 years. Each time with a small selection of roommates. Anywhere from 1 to 4 others, all adults. Some younger than others, of course. This is also my current housing situation - renting a house with 2 other roommates. I'm the oldest; the others are in their mid-20s.

We take care of the place, keep things quiet, and pay the bills on time. Is it perfect? No, of course not. I have to pester the guys occasionally to stay on top of their cleaning. But for the most part things work.

How does it work? Because we all have a solid, stringent lease.

It includes provisions like:

  • One person per room.
  • One car per tenant.
  • Very limited overnight visitors.
  • No partying whatsoever.
  • No smoking or drugs whatsoever.
  • No pets. (I would really like a dog again...sigh.)
  • Property manager does random inspections.

Violate these provisions? Your butt's booted out the door right quick. Discrimination isn't even a factor; the quality of the tenant is.

What about requiring each non-related roommate to qualify for the entire rent ? So a couple making 3xrent or 3 roommates each making 3xrent....so if one moves out you are assured rent will be paid. This will disqualify a lot of roommates.

@Nahal Beckam I don't think you can say "no roommates". I believe that violates the Fair Housing Act "familial status" category - and you DO NOT want to get crosswise with the Feds. See if your town has any ordinances on the books restricting numbers of non-related adults. My town says it is 3. You can also limit total numbers (such as two persons per bedroom). But when you start trying to define relationships you walk on thin ice. @Nathan G. what do you think? 

Yes, you can limit roommates...to some degree.

As I explained above, you should have justification for it. I personally own 11 small apartments that are not suitable for more than a single person. A couple will fit, but that's all. I also include utilities in the rent so adding a second person increases the utility usage and costs me another $30 or more a month. For those reasons, I advertise:

Single occupancy only. One additional roommate may be allowed for $100 increase to rent and deposit.

I can justify this because they are very small units and the utilities are included.

If a mom showed up with one kid, I would accept her at the higher rate just like I would a man with his girlfriend. I'm treating them equally and my requirements are justified.

@Chris Williams even with good tenants, your scenario may be problematic. I have a 4bed/3bath/3000sq.ft. home that could easily accommodate four single people. However, it has one parking space in front of the garage and two guest parking spaces. If all four tenants have cars, we're already bleeding into the street. And four individuals have four sets of friends/family to visit. There's a greater likelihood of parties, increased traffic, excess wear-and-tear, etc. It's almost always bad for the Landlord and the neighbors.

@Marian Smith great point! When unrelated people apply together, they are typically combining their income to qualify for something they otherwise couldn't afford. Case in point: I had four people last year that tried applying for the 4bed/3bath home mentioned above. (Note: I denied them right away because they don't meet my "You Plus Two" policy but I still use them as an example of why combined income is a bad policy for Landlords). The first individual worked full time and made 3x the rent all by himself. Two of the applicants made less than $800 each and the fourth individual did not work and did not intend to work. Based on a combined income of 3x the rent, most Landlords would approve them. But what happens when the first guy gets tired of the free-loaders and decides to leave? Or if he loses his job or is moved out of state? The other three couldn't afford my dog house and the entire thing would fall apart. For this reason, I recommend higher standards for unrelated people because they are much, much, much more likely to have problems and want to break off the roommate relationship. If I have two friends renting together, I require them each to make 2x the monthly rent. If one of them leaves or loses his job, the other tenant can typically hobble along until they can get back on their feet again.

@Teri S. Familial status is to protect people with children or custody of children; it's not to protect friends that want to pool resources and rent together. You will find many cities restrict the number of unrelated persons living together. Everyone should really know their state/local laws before developing an occupancy limit because some areas are starting to push for "communal" housing wherein a large group of people share a home  and act like a family by sharing chores, meals, common space, etc. This has already hit the People's Republik of Kalifornia and probably other areas like Seattle.

I'm not an attorney or an expert on every state or city. In Wyoming, Colorado, and a few other states I've checked, restrictions on unrelated people is still legal.

@Marian Smith, I think what you are suggesting is not possible in California. But I am not sure... In any case if I place this condition I will have to require each one of a husband and a wife on the lease to meet the same income to rent ratio condition.