May House Sellers Discriminate Against Unmarried Homebuyers?

Here's a summary of legal issues affecting unmarried couples who want to buy a house together.

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Few, if any, people selling a house will care about your marital status. But if a seller does refuse to sell to you simply because you aren’t married, you may have little or no legal recourse in most places. In a growing number of states and in some cities, discrimination on the basis of marital status in the sale of real property is illegal. However, in many of these states, courts have ruled that “marital status” applies to married couples (or sometimes single people) but not unmarried couples. If you run into problems buying property as an unmarried couple, contact your city attorney’s office, state fair housing office, or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for advice.

If you face a serious threat of discrimination, consider presenting the house purchase offer in one name alone, and then add the second name only when you are ready to close escrow.

In a few areas, you may face an unexpected obstacle: zoning ordinances aimed at barring unrelated people from living together. Most of these laws prohibit groups of people from living together, but a few also prohibit two unrelated adults from living together. Although it’s very unlikely you’ll run into this sort of problem, it still makes sense to check that the city—or neighborhood—in which you plan to buy isn’t zoned only for people related by “blood, marriage, or adoption.” Also, if you’re buying a co-op or a property subject to a community association, check the rules for any restrictions.

For more information on buying a house, see Nolo's Real Estate section.

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