Renters’ Rights: What to look for when you look for an apartment

One of the key issues that the Lawyers’ Committee addresses in its Fair Housing Program is discrimination against renters as they look for apartments.

State and federal laws protect renters from discrimination based on protected characteristics. What this means is that a landlord, management company, or real estate agent is not allowed to treat someone differently based on their

  • Race
  • National origin
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Religion
  • Whether or not they are married
  • Whether or not they have children
  • Age
  • Disability
  • Whether or not they receive public assistance
  • Whether or not they receive a housing subsidy

In addition, Massachusetts law places certain requirements on landlords to make apartments safe from lead paint, and makes it illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to people with children because there is lead paint in an apartment.

While every rental situation are different, and it is impossible to say what the likelihood of success would be in a particular case without knowing the details, the following are some examples of situations that might be fair housing law violations.

Some discrimination against renters is overt. For instance, a landlord or agent may say things like,

  • “We don’t take Section 8.”
  • “That landlord doesn’t rent to people with kids.”
  • “I’ve don’t like to rent to people from your country ­– they always cause problems.”

Some discrimination is more subtle. For instance, a landlord or an agent may discourage people from looking for housing in certain neighborhoods where they would stand out based on their race, national origin, or some other protected characteristic. Sometimes, this is framed as doing the renter a favor, and renters are told things like, “You would probably feel more comfortable in another area.” However, this type of steering may still be illegal under fair housing laws.

Many renters are not sure if they have faced discrimination, or simply bad treatment, when they are looking for apartments. In these instances, it is sometimes possible for organizations to do testing, to see if landlords or agents really do treat potential renters differently based on protected characteristics.

Because so many apartments go on the market in the fall, now is the time that many renters encounter problems in their housing searches. If you believe that you have been treated differently based on your race, national origin, or another protected characteristic, please contact the Lawyers’ Committee to discuss whether or not we would be able to assist you.