Q: I have two 21-year old women who want to rent my condo that I haven’t been able to sell.

The president of our homeowners association says I can’t rent to them because our condo documents say our units are single-family dwellings.

I feel he is misinterpreting the phrase “single family.” I mean, look at the variety of families today that are not related. He feels family means related. If I am right, how can I prove this to him, and do the girls have recourse about discrimination if the board doesn’t let me rent to them. (They are fine upstanding citizens by the way.)

Thanks so much for your response.

A: It appears that the president of your homeowners association is mixing up the terminology, whether because of ignorance or to suit his own agenda.

The term “single family” describes a type of dwelling. It typically means a house with walls that are unconnected to each other. A “multi-family” unit would indicate a congregate living arrangement where multiple dwellings are connected together. A condominium building would be a perfect example of it, as would a two-family structure.

But your president’s contention that the words “single family” mean only a married family unit can live in the condominium seems like quite a stretch. What about a single father living with a stepson from an earlier marriage? What if a woman and man who were unmarried wanted to live there? What about a disabled person and his or her assistant who want to live together? Would the president of your board permit these living arrangements?

Although I’m not an attorney, your association president appears to contradict the Fair Housing Law posted on the website of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (www.hud.gov).

According to the website, you may not refuse to rent or sell housing, negotiate for housing, make housing unavailable, deny a dwelling, set different terms, conditions or privileges for sale or rental of a dwelling, provide different housing services or facilities, falsely deny that housing is available for inspection, sale or rental, or deny anyone access to or membership in a facility or service (such as a multiple listing service) related to the sale or rental of housing based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or handicap. (There are links to the Fair Housing Laws on the site.)

As a landlord, you must work within your local municipal laws governing the leasing of apartments. Your local rental regulations may permit a certain number of unrelated people to live in a single unit, or it may permit so many per square feet. Please check with your local rental regulations for details.

As far as your association’s president’s claim, he seems to take an unreasonable read of the term “single family” and is at odds with the Fair Housing Law. If your tenants feel they are being discriminated against, they can file a complaint with HUD. You should try to get the board to clarify or change this rule.

To make sure you stay out of trouble, please consult with your real estate attorney.

Published: Dec 13, 2007