Will pretending we're married help us get an apartment?

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Question:

My boyfriend and I are moving into an apartment off-campus. We're afraid that the landlord won't rent to us because we're not married. Should I fake it and use my boyfriend's last name when I fill out the application? If I use my own name and the landlord refuses to rent to us, is this legal?

Answer:

Most landlords are concerned about whether you pay the rent and take good care of the property, not who you share your bed with. In a college town in particular, you're apt to find landlords who are used to renting to unmarried couples -- and who have realized that, these days, they will have very few applicants to choose among if they insist that every couple be married.

No matter how strict your landlord's morals, using your boyfriend's name could be far more trouble than it's worth. First, you're likely to be found out -- most landlords will run a credit check on all tenants (including both partners in a marriage), and your new name won't yield a report. Landlords also typically talk to former employers or landlords, who won't know you by your "new" name.

Even if you skate by on these fronts, your cover will be blown sooner or later, when the landlord or manager notices a different name on your mail or hears others refer to you by your real name. This level of dishonesty might lead to a termination -- a nasty prospect.

There are only a few states that make it illegal for a landlord to discriminate against unmarried couples: Alaska, California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Several cities, however, have extended protection even though their states have not. To find out whether local ordinances protect you from discrimination, start by calling your college or university's housing office. You can be sure that yours isn't the first inquiry they've had.

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