Facing Housing Discrimination Due to Sexual Orientation? Here’s What You Can Do

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Facing Housing Discrimination Due to Sexual Orientation? Here’s What You Can Do

Nancy Burgess · Dec 19, 2011

A landlord’s main concerns should be prompt rent payment and the condition of their rental property, not the sexual orientation of their tenant. Unfortunately, housing discrimination is a reality in some cases. An abundance of information found in this article is available on a resourceful legal site called NOLO Law for All site.

Rent Denial Before Tenancy

Federal law does not protect lesbian, gay or transgender renters from discrimination by landlords although some state and city laws do forbid sexual orientation discrimination. There are several states that specifically prohibit discrimination against gays or lesbians:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • the District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • New Jersey
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Wisconsin

A handful of locations have laws protecting transgenders:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Minnesota
  • New Mexico
  • Rhode Island
  • New York City

Sexual orientation discrimination is illegal in these specific cities:

  • Atlanta
  • Chicago
  • Detroit
  • Miami
  • New York
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis
  • Seattle

Unfortunately, if you do not live in a protected city or state, there is nothing legally protecting you from discrimination. The best solution for such circumstances is to try reasoning with the property owner.

Rent Denial After Tenancy

A lease remains in tact unless you break a specific clause such as failure to pay rent or violating a no pet rule. Breaking the law is also just cause to terminate a rental lease, such as selling drugs, theft. A lease to rent rarely delineates sexual behavior or preference.

If you are an established tenant and the landlord tries to break the lease based on your sexual orientation, you have a more valid case than someone trying to establish a first-time lease. If the state in which you reside does not offer legal protection for sexual orientation, the landlord is hard-pressed to prove their case and evict the tenant.

Month-to-Month Rental Agreement, No Formal Lease

A month-to-month rental allows the landlord to terminate the agreement with a 30-day notice in most states. While discrimination is not a valid reason for termination, the landlord need not give a specific reason for terminating the rental agreement.

In a rent control situation, the tenant is far better protected. Rent control laws forbid termination unless the tenant has violated the rental agreement (not paying the rent, breaking a no pet rule) or broken the law (selling drugs, theft).

What Can You Do if You Are Being Discriminated Against?

Remember that any action you take will likely anger your landlord. Think it through and make thoughtful decisions before taking action.

Try talking to the landlord. You are fighting to live in their property so make every attempt to keep the lines of communication open. Good communication will assist you with future encounters with the landlord. Talking is often your only option if you live in a city or state that is unprotected by law.

If you live in a protected city or state, merely reminding the landlord about the existing discrimination laws might be enough to eliminate the problem. Notifying the local housing authority about the discrimination is the next option for the renter. Housing laws and codes are taken very seriously and there will be prompt follow-up on reported issues.

If talking to the landlord nor engaging the local housing authority works, the next step would be to consult a lawyer. There are many avenues a lawyer can investigate; access to the housing, damages for emotional distress, out-of-pocket losses and more.

The Bottom Line

There are limited ways to deal with sexual orientation discrimination, whether you live in a city or state that is protected or not by law. Start with the landlord and work the way up the echelon, in order of their authority.

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