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Legally speaking: Is an owner’s rental policy a violation of Ohio’s fair housing law?

By Lorie Garland, OAR Vice President of Legal Services

The OAR Legal Assistance Hotline receives an array of real estate-related legal questions — including license law issues, disclosure, contract law, ethics and commission problems, among others. In an effort to help you work within the law, our “Legally Speaking” series spotlights some of the timely questions that are being asked by REALTORS. The following addresses a fair housing concern…

Q: I manage residential rental properties. A couple came into our rental office looking for a one bedroom apartment. The husband and wife are unemployed college students. The couple stated that their lack of income should not be a factor in the rental process because their parents will pay the rent and cosign on the lease. We have units that would meet the couple’s needs however they specifically requested information on a unit where the owner will not rent to college students or accept cosigners. The rental agent explained the owner’s policy to the couple and offered to show them other units. The couple was upset and claimed discrimination. They are threatening to file a fair housing complaint if we don’t show them the unit. Is it a violation of Ohio’s fair housing laws to have a policy not accepting college students or cosigners?

A: No. Ohio’s fair housing laws prohibit discriminating against a member of a protected class in the sale or leasing of residential property. The protected classes are race, color, religion, sex, military status, familial status (families with children), ancestry, disability and national origin. College students are not a protected class under Ohio’s fair housing laws. As long as college students are not a protected class by local regulation, an owner can have a tenant selection policy of not renting to college students.

An owner can adopt a tenant selection policy addressing a tenant’s ability to meet the financial obligations of the lease. This policy could require the tenant himself to meet the financial obligation and not permit cosigners to be considered. A no cosigner policy would not violate Ohio’s fair housing laws. Again, the owner would need to confirm that local regulations do not prohibit this policy.

An owner with a no cosigner policy should keep in mind that he may have to make an exception to this policy if necessary to accommodate the needs of a disabled tenant applicant. If an applicant with a disability, as defined under the fair housing laws, meets the fair housing laws criteria for granting a reasonable accommodation  request, the owner would have to permit a cosigner.

Tags: legal, Legally Speaking