I received an interesting question this week: are roommates (and searches for roommates) protected under the Fair Housing Act (FHA). What used to be done in newspapers (and now largely done on-line through various websites) are efforts to help people find a roommate. Many times people are looking for roommates based on a given sex, age, race, sexual orientation and/or familial status. And these are the types of classifications covered under federal and state fair housing laws. In sum, can an individual roommate search be done in a manner that would violate the FHA if done by a professional apartment management company?
Well, a local fair housing group in California thought roommate searches should be covered by the fair housing laws and literally made it a federal case. The specific legal question was if an individual bedroom within an apartment or house is a “dwelling” subject to the FHA? The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit concluded that no, the FHA does not protect roommates. The opinion basically took view that, quite unlike an apartment community, the leasing office does not have to live with the resident. The court concluded that applying the FHA to inside a home or apartment would permit the government to restrict the ability to choose roommates compatible with individual lifestyles and would reflect a serious invasion of privacy, autonomy and security.
While there are always two sides to every issue, the court took the view that, for example, a woman might want a female roommate because of security or modesty concerns. Similarly, an orthodox Jew may prefer a roommate with similar beliefs and/or dietary restrictions. These are but two examples of legitimate reasons why the FHA has been held not to apply in individual roommate searches. Hope that makes sense.
Just A Thought.