Discrimination in Rental Housing

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Tenants are protected from illegal discrimination in housing. This article explains who is protected from what. It is a guide for both landlords and tenants.

Discrimination is unfairly treating a person or people differently from others.

Warning! This article is only a general guide. Local laws, called ordinances, vary widely. Check what laws apply to you.

What Are Tenants Protected From?

In Michigan, a landlord cannot discriminate against tenants based on their:

  • Religion

  • Race

  • Color

  • National origin

  • Age

  • Sex

  • Familial or marital status

  • Disability

In some parts of Michigan, local laws may protect tenants from discrimination based on:

  • Sexual orientation

  • Pregnancy

  • Whether they get public benefits

  • HIV status

  • Source of income

  • Being a student

Illegal Actions

Acts of discrimination include:

  • Refusing to sell or rent to a tenant

  • Refusing to let a potential tenant view a property

  • Giving a different price for housing or asking for different payments

  • Changing terms, conditions, or privileges in a lease

  • Falsely telling someone there are no rentals available

  • Falsely telling someone a particular unit is unavailable

  • Refusing to accommodate a disability, unless it would be a major burden for the landlord

  • Evicting a tenant

  • Harassing, intimidating, or threatening a person

Discriminatory Policies That Are Not Obvious 

It is illegal to have a policy that has the effect of discriminating, even if it does not seem to when you read it. For example, a landlord’s policy that a person must be a resident of that town to rent from them in a town where most of the people are white could have a discriminatory effect.

Landlords Renting Their Own Houses May Discriminate

These rules do not apply to those selling or renting their own houses, if they:

  • Rent a property with four or fewer units and live in one of the units

  • Own three or fewer single-family homes and

    • Do not use a real estate agent

    • Do not use discriminatory advertising

    • Did not sell another house within 24 months

    • Are not in the business of selling or renting homes

What Types of Disabilities Are Protected in Michigan?

People with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities that significantly limit one or more major life activities are protected. Discrimination based on these disabilities is illegal.

Protected Disabilities

A landlord can’t exclude a tenant based on the landlord's thoughts or feelings about a person with a disability. Some examples of protected disabilities are:

  • Visual, speech, or hearing issues

  • Mobility issues

  • Cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, or muscular dystrophy

  • Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, or HIV/AIDS

  • Intellectual disability

  • Emotional illness

  • Drug addiction or alcoholism

To learn more, read Rights of Tenants With Disabilities.


Landlords can exclude some people from housing based on their behavior. These include:

  • Juvenile offenders

  • Sex offenders

  • Current users of illegal drugs

  • People whose disabilities threaten others’ safety or damages property

Familial Status

A landlord may not discriminate against a tenant who has children or is pregnant. This includes parents of adopted children and legal custodians of children. A landlord can’t:

  • Refuse to rent to a tenant with a child

  • Charge extra fees for children

  • Put tenants with children in a separate area of the building

  • Refuse to let a boy and a girl sleep in the same room

  • Unreasonably limit the number of people in a room

A landlord who owns housing for older people is not limited by rules against age and familial status discrimination. These types of housing require 80% or more of their rooms to be occupied by people over the age of 55 and must follow other rules.

Marital Status

In Michigan, a landlord may not discriminate against people based on if they are married, divorced, or single. This means a landlord:

  • Can’t refuse to rent because two unrelated people want to live in the same room

  • Can’t charge two application fees or make each tenant qualify separately for a rental

  • Must allow unrelated roommates to do anything a married couple can


Landlords can’t discriminate in ads. They can’t say or hint that a landlord prefers one type of person over another. For example, an ad searching for a white family clearly discriminates.

Also, ads that are only found in specific regions to target racial or age groups are discriminatory.

A landlord who owns housing for older people can target their ads toward people over the age of 55. These types of housing require 80% or more of their rooms to be occupied by people over the age of 55.

Discrimination Takes Many Forms

Housing discrimination does not need to be written or obvious to be illegal. For example, it is illegal if every tenant with a wheelchair is quoted a higher price. Also, policies that seem legal may discriminate. For example, a policy that allows only two people in a room may discriminate against tenants with children.

Examples of Spoken Discrimination

Some landlords try and cover discrimination by making excuses or discouraging tenants from applying. They might say things like:

  • “Sorry, we just rented the last apartment”

  • “No disability, we only rent to working people”

  • “We aren’t set up for children”

  • “Your credit isn’t good enough”

  • “A boy and a girl can’t share a bedroom”

  • “We must have lost your application”

  • “If I let you bring a pet in here, I’ll have to let everyone do that”

  • “You might feel more comfortable in another neighborhood”

  • “Most of the people who live in this building are ‘professionals’”

  • “You can’t build a ramp for access to the building—it won’t look good”

  • “That dog isn’t allowed here, it is way too small to help you”

What Can Tenants Do if They Have Been Discriminated Against?

Tenants who believe they’ve been discriminated against can contact a fair housing center. The centers in Michigan are: