According to the Civil Rights act, one is not allowed to discriminate based on religion when it comes to housing.

What about one who wants to rent only to members of a certain religious institution (such as students in a religious seminary).

  • 2
    Who is the landlord/owner?
    – user3851
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 1:55
  • This is probably allowed particularly as an intersection between the first amendment and the religious freedom restoration act. You're not banning a specific group from renting; you're only allowing a specific group to rent. This is in contrast to a ban on a specific religion renting from you. That would probably violate the civil rights act.
    – Viktor
    Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 2:10
  • I suspect it's legal to rent only to students of a certain college, and a religious seminary can admit only adherents of a particular religion. (This reminds me of something I read about MIT in the 1930s. The faculty wanted to grant tenure to Norman Levinson. The dean, Vannevar Bush, vetoed the appointment, saying it was because Levinson was a Jew. That wasn't illegal then. The Cambridge mathematician G .H. Hardy (played in a current film by Jeremy Irons) was visiting Harvard, and spoke with Bush about it. He asked him whether MIT is an engineering school or a theological seminary.) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 2:18
  • (I should mention that nothing about this is in the aforementioned film.) Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 2:18
  • 1
    In addition to federal considerations, there may also be local issues involved in exclusive/inclusive rental requirements. In particular, this is a hot topic issue concerning things like LGBT housing. Other concerns are that some localities near colleges will stipulate that the local college students cannot be renters. Commented Jul 26, 2016 at 4:25

2 Answers 2


There are exemptions, and "justifications", in 24 CFR 100. The exemption is 100.10:

(c) Nothing in this part, other than the prohibitions against discriminatory advertising, applies to:

(1) The sale or rental of any single family house by an owner, provided the following conditions are met:

(i) The owner does not own or have any interest in more than three single family houses at any one time.

(ii) The house is sold or rented without the use of a real estate broker, agent or salesperson or the facilities of any person in the business of selling or renting dwellings.

So such a restriction could be allowed if e.g. you live in the house and rent only a few rooms, or a single family home marketed and managed in the right way. There is also an exemption for religious organizations and private clubs allowing rental to members only.

100.500 lays the groundwork for disparate impact hot water. It says:

(a) A practice has a discriminatory effect where it actually or predictably results in a disparate impact on a group of persons or creates, increases, reinforces, or perpetuates segregated housing patterns because of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

So only renting to students in a particular seminary would most likely have a disparate impact.

There is, however, the possibility of justifying the policy, following 100.500:

(b) (1) A legally sufficient justification exists where the challenged practice:

(i) Is necessary to achieve one or more substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interests of the respondent, with respect to claims brought under 42 U.S.C. 3612, or defendant, with respect to claims brought under 42 U.S.C. 3613 or 3614; and

(ii) Those interests could not be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect.

(2) A legally sufficient justification must be supported by evidence and may not be hypothetical or speculative. The burdens of proof for establishing each of the two elements of a legally sufficient justification are set forth in paragraphs (c)(2) and (c)(3) of this section.

So let's say that the offended party has made the case that the practice will have a discriminatory effect, then the accused can set forth the aforementioned justification:

(c)(2) Once the charging party or plaintiff satisfies the burden of proof set forth in paragraph (c)(1) of this section, the respondent or defendant has the burden of proving that the challenged practice is necessary to achieve one or more substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interests of the respondent or defendant.

(c3)(3) If the respondent or defendant satisfies the burden of proof set forth in paragraph (c)(2) of this section, the charging party or plaintiff may still prevail upon proving that the substantial, legitimate, nondiscriminatory interests supporting the challenged practice could be served by another practice that has a less discriminatory effect.

The crux of the matter is having a "substantial, legitimate nondiscriminatory interest", i.e. why would you want to rent to only seminary students.


This might be illegal under the theory of disparate impact.

Although non-students might not be a protected class in and of themselves, your policy would tend to give a relative disadvantage to members of some protected classes, e.g. people with any religion other than that of the college, or people with no religion. Depending on the demographics of the students, it might also work against other protected classes. If the students are disproportionately young, you might have an age discrimination issue. If they are disproportionately of one sex (as in the case of a Catholic seminary, for instance), you might have a sex discrimination issue.

The Supreme Court held in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, Inc., 576 U.S. ___ (2015) that "disparate impact" is a valid basis for claims under the Fair Housing Act.

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