Last Updated on November 8, 2021 by Kelvin Nielsen
To establish the kind of tenant you will make, a landlord can ask you several questions. Among many, they can ask who your employer is, your monthly salary, and the period you’ve worked with your current employer. What’s more, they can inquire about the number of people who’ll be living alongside you and whether you plan to sublet. This way, they can decide from the word go whether or not to rent to you.
However, there’s a couple of sensitive questions that a landlord can’t ask you. For instance, federal and state laws prohibit questions that touch on your race, gender orientation, religion, and more. When a landlord asks these questions, they violate your rights and this can attract legal action if you pursue justice.
With that in mind, knowing the questions a landlord can’t ask you is imperative to you as a tenant. Here are some illegal things that a landlord can’t ask you.
1. Your Nationality
“Where do you hail from?”
People often ask this question to make small talk or break the ice with the other person. However, as innocent as this question sounds, a landlord shouldn’t ask it whether verbally or in writing. As per the Fair Housing Act, a question on nationality boils down to race and color and could lead to an unlawful discrimination lawsuit.
In addition to this, a landlord can’t deny you housing on the basis of your country of origin. Also, they can’t ask you what your native language is or where your parents or spouse were born. If they do, you can file a fair housing complaint and the landlord could pay fines or attorney fees.
2. Your Sexual Orientation
“Are you straight?”
In some states, the law prohibits landlords from asking you questions regarding your gender orientation. In California, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, for instance, a landlord can’t ask you whether you’re straight, gay, or trans. Also, they can’t deny you housing on the grounds of your sexual orientation. Going by these states’ fair housing laws, this is illegal and if you file a complaint, they’ll have the law to reckon with.
That aside, a landlord can’t evict you after finding out your gender when you’ve already signed the lease. Unless the lease spells out rules regarding this, an eviction based on sexual orientation will be unlawful. And that’s one of the reasons why you should carefully read through the lease before signing it.
3. Your Religion
“What is your religion?”
The FHA also restricts questions concerning your religion. To this end, a landlord can’t ask you the religion you are affiliated to or whether you are generally religious. Likewise, it is illegal for a landlord to reject your rental application on the basis of your religious affiliation.
Another thing that the FHA prohibits landlords from is suggesting that they want a certain religious group while advertising rentals. Also, landlords could find themselves in trouble if they fill a vacant rental unit with obvious religious regalia.
4. Whether You have been Arrested
“Have you ever been arrested?”
Fair Housing laws prohibit landlords from asking you whether you have been previously arrested. This is owing to the fact that an arrest doesn’t always guarantee a conviction. That said, this doesn’t mean that your criminal record will slide unseen. The law allows landlords to run a criminal background check and your entire criminal history will appear here.
Now, some tenant-friendly states protect criminally-convicted tenants from discrimination. For instance, in Seattle, CA, a law effected on 18th February 2018 gives tenants such rights. In Washington DC, landlords must have a separate screening process for tenants with a criminal record.
5. Your Familial Status
“How many children do you have?”
State and local laws allow landlords to ask you how many people will occupy the rental unit. However, what they can’t enquire about is the number of children you have or whether you plan to have any. Besides, if you’re expectant, they can’t ask when the pregnancy is due.
Discrimination based on whether you are married, single, divorced, or separated is also illegal. In other words, a landlord can’t choose another person at your expense simply because your marital status doesn’t impress them.
6. Your Age
“How old are you?”
This question might sound harmless but it is a no-go zone for a landlord. Landlords mostly ask for the age when they are avoiding college students or simply preferring a certain age bracket. Either way, enquiring about your age or denying you housing on such grounds is illegal as per the FHA.
7. Whether You are Disabled
“Do you have any kind of disability?”
It is also illegal for a landlord to ask you whether you have a physical or mental disability. It could be that you have mobility, visual, hearing, or mental impairment. Whatever it is, a landlord who discriminates against you on this basis could be subject to legal action. In addition, the FHA entitles you to several rights if you have a disability of any kind:
- Right to accommodation. A landlord should adjust rules, policies, and services to make things easier for you. For instance, if you use a wheelchair, they should consider offering you a more spacious parking space.
- Right to make modifications. As per the law, a landlord should allow you to make reasonable modifications to make the apartment more comfortable.
8. Whether You Have a Service Animal
“Do you have a service animal?”
Service animals are typically dogs that are trained to assist disabled people to perform some tasks. While a landlord can ask you whether you keep pets, any questions to do with service animals are a no-no. Such questions include the number of service animals you have or the exact duties they perform. That said, you’ll be required to document any service animals you have when filling out the rental application.
Federal and local laws restrict the questions a landlord can ask you. Also, they protect you from discrimination and denial of housing based on things out of your control. As a tenant, it’s good to know what’s illegal for a landlord to ask you. This way, you can tell when they’re taking it too far and act accordingly.
Hi, I’m Kelvin Nielsen, an experienced landlord and accomplished real estate lawyer. My focus is on answering your questions about renting in the hopes of making your life as a renter or a landlord a bit easier.