Most state and local laws prohibiting housing discrimination echo federal antidiscrimination law. But some laws forbid additional types of discrimination—such as discrimination based on marital status—that aren’t covered by federal law. For example, in states that prohibit discrimination based on marital status, it is illegal to refuse to rent to divorced people, even though federal law does not prohibit this kind of discrimination.
Here we explain some of the common antidiscrimination laws that states and localities have adopted. For more information on state and local housing discrimination laws, contact your state fair housing agency.
About 20 states ban discrimination on the basis of marital status. Most of these states’ laws extend protection to married couples only (meaning that landlords cannot treat them differently from single tenants). Oddly, courts in Maryland, Minnesota, New York, and Wisconsin, where marital discrimination is also recognized, extend the protection only to single renters (landlords cannot treat them differently from married tenants).
What about unmarried couples? In most states, landlords may legally refuse to rent to you if you are an unmarried couple. This means that landlords in these states may legally ask if two applicants of the same or different sex are lovers or just friendly roommates. In Alaska, California, Massachusetts, Michigan, and New Jersey, however, courts have ruled that the term “marital status” extends to unmarried couples. In these states, landlords cannot refuse to rent to you simply because you and your roommate are not married.
Housing discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is prohibited in more than 15 states and the District of Columbia, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Hawaii, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Several states and cities prohibit housing discrimination based on sexual orientation (but not gender identity). For more information on state or local law on sexual orientation and gender identity, contact the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
If you or your roommate are gay or lesbian, or you are a transgender man or woman, and you live in a state or city that extends antidiscrimination protection to you, a landlord may not ask for details of your intimate lives.
In several states, including, California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Wisconsin, applicants who receive public assistance may not be turned away or otherwise discriminated against solely because of this fact. (Some cities, notably New York City, also extend protection.) But a landlord may refuse to rent to you if your available income—regardless of its source—falls below a reasonable level, as long as the same standard is applied to every applicant. And landlords in most states (though not in Connecticut or New Jersey) are not required to participate in the federal housing subsidy program known as Section 8.