Can income requirements for roommates be higher than those for married couples?

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Question:

My son is looking for an apartment to rent with a friend of his. All of the complexes we visited have some sort of income requirement, usually gross income of at least 2.5 to 3 times the monthly rent. In one complex, the representative told us that both boys must qualify separately for the total rent. The "boys" are 24 and 26 years old respectively, and meet all other of the apartment's requirements. I asked if they had the same requirement for married couples (both must qualify at three times the rent) and they told me that it is different for married people because one of the boys might leave. This seems like discrimination against single people and a violation of their civil rights. Am I right?

Answer:

Your son and his roommate are being treated differently, but in most places, this is not an instance of illegal discrimination. Unfair as it may seem, in most states and cities the law preventing discrimination based on familial status does not protect single people from being treated differently than married people. Only in Maryland, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin can a single person insist on being treated the same as married people.

The reason the landlord is insisting that each tenant be able to absorb the entire rent is because he's worried that if a roommate takes off, the one left behind will not be able to pay the entire rent. When it comes to married persons, it's less likely that they'll separate, so it's less likely that one member of the couple will have to shoulder the entire rent alone.

Once you understand the reason behind the landlord's position, you can address it: Offer to cosign on the lease or rental agreement. This makes you responsible for damage or unpaid rent in case one of the roommates takes off and the other cannot cover the bill. Landlords are not legally required to accept a cosigner, and many do not want to deal with collecting from someone who may be miles away and hard to contact and sue. But it is worth a try.

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