Fair housing laws specify illegal reasons to refuse to rent to a tenant, such as rejecting an applicant because of race, religion, ethnic background, sex, or because the applicant has children or a disability.
In addition, some state and local laws prohibit discrimination based on a person's marital status, sexual orientation, or age.
Landlords are legally free to choose among prospective tenants as long as their decisions comply with these laws and are based on legitimate business criteria. For example, a landlord is entitled to reject someone with a poor credit history, insufficient income to pay the rent, or past behavior -- such as damaging property -- that makes the person a bad risk. A valid occupancy policy limiting the number of people per rental unit -- one that is clearly tied to health and safety -- can also be a legal basis for refusing tenants.
Landlords must apply selection standards, such as requiring a minimum income and a good credit report, equally to all tenants.