FHA and Shared Housing

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Howdy,

I have a small portfolio of rental properties that I rent out on a "per bedroom" basis. I'm not clear on how the FHA applies to this type of rental. Because my business model means that I'm choosing roommates for other people, do I have the same right to discriminate that my tenants would if they were choosing their own roommates?

As a hypothetical: If I have one vacant bedroom in a house full of students or young professionals, can I lawfully turn away a single mother who has an infant? It is obvious that foisting a child onto a group of young, childless tenants is not reasonable, but reasonableness is not the basis of law, and I need to understand what the legal boundaries are. (Note: we sometimes accept couples, so single occupancy restriction is not an option).

Does the financial/administrative burden exemption of the FHA apply here? Obviously we do not have an issue with any particular demographic, but our administrative reality is that we need to create harmonious roommates situations in order to manage turnover and reduce requests for mediation in roommate disputes.

If the financial/administrative burden exemption does apply, where is the line?

What about the octogenarian whose home nurse visits three times a day applying to live with the group of PhD candidates who you know have a no guests policy so they can focus on their dissertations? Or the applicant with three emotional support cats when you know one of the existing tenants is allergic? Or devotees from the Church of Bacon applying to live in a house where all the other tenants are orthodox jews?

Before anyone speculates that these scenarios are unlikely, it's true that many inquiries will fizzle out when the person learns that they are demographically dissimilar to the other occupants. However, I still have to communicate with them in a compliant manner. Additionally, we've found that many older adults and/or single parents who are looking for house shares are doing so because they don't have other options. They may be willing to settle for demographically incongruous housemates in a way that might be less acceptable to said housemates.

Thanks in advance for your thoughts!

--Chris

I found this and it helped me understand the legal lay of the land a little better:

https://www.nmhc.org/uploadedFiles/Articles/External_Resources/Fair%20Housing%20White%20Paper%202016-03%20FINAL.pdf

Essentially, the law does not adequately address shared housing. However, there is some federal case law supporting prohibitions on children in Single Room Occupancy (SRO) rentals.

Thus, while the right to discriminate against children in shared housing is not specifically enshrined in the law, such a policy may be defensible on the basis that there is a compelling child welfare reason behind the prohibition.

Still, this doesn't leave for much comfort in communicating rejections, ignoring leads, or declining viewing requests. Lack of awareness of case law could lead a rejected party to believe they have been unfairly discriminated against. If they bring a suit, the landlord will still need have cost to defend themselves.