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I and two prospective roommates (we are not related) have been in search of a 3 bedroom house to rent in Florida. We've applied for a 3 bedroom townhouse, paid the application fee, and are waiting on the response of the owner to see if we will be able to rent the house. The landowner seems to be dragging their feet, and it wasn't until several days (4-5) after we had submitted our application that we got this text from the realtor who had shown us the property.

"The landlord is hesitating your application due to you are not family. But still considering. sorry for waiting."

As it stands, we absolutely qualify in terms of income, passed the background check, and were likely the first to apply. When we applied, we were told that since we were not related, we each would have to fill out our own form and pay an application fee each. The form itself had a section titled "List others who will reside in this house on a permanent basis" with a field for each persons income.

I know the text from the realtor isn't necessarily the exact words of the property owner, but at the very least, wouldn't that mean we could reasonably request a refund of the application fee as the format of applying (each person filling out a form) already made us unlikely to get the house?

P.s. the townhouse is part of a larger building. Only that one unit is owned by the property owner, the whole remaining building is part of a vacation rental company which is not affiliated with our prospective landlord.

Thank you ahead of time for your consideration and suggestions.

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According to the government, familial status has no effect past preventing businesses and landlords from discriminating against you based on your having children. It does not extend any further than that. So no, the landlord has done nothing wrong and yes, they can discriminate against you for not being related. In fact, it's a fairly common practice when creating zoning laws in cities (generally too many non-related people cannot occupy the same property in residential neighborhoods).

From the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing:

Familial status is defined as having one or more individuals under 18 years of age who reside with a parent or with another person with care and legal custody of that individual (including foster parents) or with a designee of that parent or other person with legal custody. Familial status also includes a pregnant woman or a person who is in the process of adopting or otherwise securing legal custody of any individual under 18 years of age.

Similarly, pretty much every reference online only ever refers to familial status in regards to children, never mentioning anything else that would be covered under that act. Even the United States Department of Justice:

The Fair Housing Act, with some exceptions, prohibits discrimination in housing against families with children under 18.

Which links to the actual text of the law which officially defines it:

(k) "Familial status" means one or more individuals (who have not attained the age of 18 years) being domiciled with--

(1) a parent or another person having legal custody of such individual or individuals; or
(2) the designee of such parent or other person having such custody, with the written permission of such parent or other person.

The protections afforded against discrimination on the basis of familial status shall apply to any person who is pregnant or is in the process of securing legal custody of any individual who has not attained the age of 18 years.

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Perhaps you should suggest to the agent that the landlord investigate their obligations under the Fair Housing Act 1968 which, among other things, prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status. If the reason you are denied is that you are not family, this is discrimination on familial status.

  • Do you have evidence that "familial status" actually covers the complete lack of them being a family? Several cities I've been to have city ordinances that explicitly forbid a home from being used as a permanent residence by four or more non-related occupants in certain residential zones. Would that also be considered discrimination if a group were declined because a city ordinance forbids it? That status sounds more like preventing situations like "we don't want children" or "we want a mother and father together" not "you guys aren't related." – animuson Aug 17 '17 at 4:05
  • @animuson I only need evidence if I'm going to court - no one here wants to go to court so the subtle suggestion that the landlord may just have handed the potential tenants a reason for taking him to court (even if they are ultimately unsuccessful) may mean that he approves their application just to avoid the possibility. In a more general sense, there are actions, laws and ordinances all over the place that, if challenged, will fall in a screaming heap - courts only resolve disputes, they don't actively go looking for unconstitutional laws to strike down. – Dale M Aug 17 '17 at 5:11
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    @animuson more directly: not being part of a family has to be familial status based simply on the words themselves. – Dale M Aug 17 '17 at 5:12
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    That... sounds like bad advice. Mentioning a legal aspect that you don't actually have any information on whether it would be a legitimate action is not a good plan. Psychological effect there would cause them to either become afraid of legal action and approve or be irritated by the threat of legal action and deny out of principle. Either way, all you're doing is making the situation uncomfortable when you don't even know for sure. – animuson Aug 17 '17 at 5:15
  • But past that, from the various things I've been able to find online about it, the federal protection of "familial status" refers solely to having children (or being pregnant), and nothing else related to the family. – animuson Aug 17 '17 at 5:22

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