APPARENTLY IT IS LEGAL to discriminate when renting out that extra room in your house. While the Fair Housing Acts prohibits discrimination of any sort when renting any "dwelling," that act does not extend into a person's own residence, according to a ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
So, that extra room you want to rent out? Feel free to be as biased as you like- just keep it inside the walls of your house.
The decision by the Ninth Circuit comes after California-based Fair Housing organizations filed suit in federal court alleging an internt based business that helps roommates find each other was illegally discriminating on its web site.
Roommate.com receives about 40,000 visits a day and handles about a million posts for roommates each year. On its site, visitors are asked a series of questions, both about themselves and their preferences for potential roommates. Including on the form are questions about a person's preferences for a roommate, including their sexual orientation and familial status.
The Fair Housing Councils of San Fernando Valley and The Fair Housing Council of San Diego took exception to the website asking about a person's sexual orientation and its sorting of potential roommates from that information. They filed suit claiming the site violates the Fair Housing Act (FHA) and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act.
A District Court in California upheld the claim and ordered roommate.com from using the questions on its site. Roommate appealed.
Judges on the Ninth Circuit disagreed with the District Court and ruled the site can ask such questions when it relates to a roommate. The justices acknowledged that if the Fair Housing Act extended to roommate situations, the site would be illegal. However, the justices went on to rule the Act stops short of requiring a blind eye to such things when a person is looking for a roommate to share space with.
The FHA prohibits discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, familial status or national origin in the sale or renting of a dwelling. But the justices agreed that looking to rent a room is not the same as trying to rent a "dwelling." They added that ruling the act applies within a house pr apartment setting would prohibit renters from finding roommates compatible with their lifestyles. That would be "a serious invasion of privacy, autonomy and security."
In the ruling, the court's Chief Judge Alex Kozinski used the following example: "An orthodox Jew may want a roommate with similar beliefs and dietary restrictions so he won't have a honey-baked ham in the refrigerator next to the potato latkes."
The court ruled that Congress had no intention of interfering with personal relationships inside the home. "Is a dwelling a bedroom plus a right to access common areas?," Kozinski wrote in the ruling. "What if roommates share a bedroom? Could a 'dwelling' be a bottom bunk and half an armoire? It makes practical sense to interpret 'dwelling' as an independent living unit and stop the FHA at the front door."
After all, Kozinski states high in the ruling "There’s no place like home. In the privacy of your own
home, you can take off your coat, kick off your shoes, let your guard down and be completely yourself." And, he added, the FHA wasn't intended to undermine that.
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