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Discrimination in Rental Housing


    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 is 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 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

    • Mental retardation

    • Emotional illness

    • Drug addiction or alcoholism


    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

    If a person’s disability threatens others’ safety or damages the property, the landlord must try reasonable methods to lower the threat before excluding the person.

    Assistance Animals

    A landlord can restrict access or charge fees for pets, but not for assistance animals. Assistance animals are not pets.

    There are two types of assistance animals: service animals and emotional support animals. Service animals are dogs or miniature horses that have been trained to help people with a disability. Emotional support animals can be other types of animals and do not need to be specially trained or licensed.

    Buildings that are open to the public, such as rental offices, can’t prohibit service dogs. A landowner can deny an animal access if it is not house-trained or is out of control.

    Illegal Discrimination

    It is illegal for a landlord to discriminate against a tenant who has an assistance animal by:

    • Asking a tenant to pay a “pet fee” or similar charge for the animal

    • Asking a tenant for extensive medical history to prove a disability

    • Refusing to give a tenant housing because of a “no pets” policy

    • Refusing to admit a service animal because of its breed, size, or weight

    • Asking a tenant to provide proof of an obvious disability

    Landlord’s Rights

    A landlord can ask for a note from a doctor or other medical professional if a tenant’s disability is not obvious. For example, if a tenant has an emotional support animal the landlord can ask for a note from the tenant’s doctor. A landlord can also ask if an animal is a service animal needed for a disability and what work the animal performs.

    A landlord can refuse to allow an assistance animal if the animal is a threat to others or the property of others. This must be based on the animal’s actions, not fears about what it might do. For example, a landlord can’t deny housing to a tenant with a pit bull assistance animal because the landlord thinks all pit bulls are violent.

    Reasonable Accommodation and Reasonable Modification

    A reasonable accommodation is a change to a rule or practice that gives a person with a disability an equal chance to use and enjoy a home. One example is a person with limited mobility requesting a parking space closer to that person’s entryway than the one that was assigned. Another is a person asking a landlord not to evict that person because of a disturbance due to a mental health condition. In this case, that person must show steps have been taken to prevent another incident, such as getting counseling or taking new medication.

    A reasonable modification is a change to a building that lets a person with a disability use and enjoy a home more fully. It includes changes to public and common use spaces such as pools, hallways and entries. Examples of reasonable modifications include widening a door or adding a ramp.

    To get a reasonable accommodation or modification, a tenant must propose the change to the landlord. The tenant may have to show the change is necessary and that there is a connection between the change and the disability.

    A landlord can’t refuse to allow reasonable and necessary physical changes to a property, but the tenant will probably have to pay the cost of making the changes and maintaining them. A landlord may ask a tenant to undo physical changes before moving out, if it’s reasonable to do so.

    A landlord who thinks a request is unreasonable can recommend a different, but similar change if possible. If two changes are equally reasonable, the landlord should let the person with a disability choose.

    If a landlord and tenant can’t agree on an accommodation or modification, the tenant can file a complaint with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Or a tenant can sue the landlord. To decide if a request is reasonable, a court will look at all of the following:

    • If the burden or cost to the landlord is undue

    • The benefit and necessity to the disabled person

    • If it is an excessive change to the nature of the landlord’s business

    • The availability of other similar choices


    A landlord who is renting his or her own home and has fewer than four rental units does not have to provide reasonable accommodations. A rental unit can be a house, apartment, or room.

    If a building does not have an elevator, only the first floor units need to be wheelchair accessible.

    Some parts of homes open to the public are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). These areas include shelters, common areas, and rental offices. Landlords must still make reasonable changes to these areas if requested.

    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: