How to stay legal and fair with housing
…while creating like-minded community.
1. Respect the Law
If you are offering a rental apartment that’s across town from you, it doesn’t matter if you like the prospective tenant. If they pass the credit check and their references are good, they should be accepted. You both have legal protections. As long as you treat each other with professionalism and respect, and everything should go fairly smoothly and you’ll probably have minimal contact with each other. The legally protected characteristics are arguably a valid way to create more equal opportunity. This is not an intentional community issue, because you aren’t living near or with the tenant.
2. Be Honest Without Incriminating Language
If you’re looking for a housemate, maybe even a roommate, it does matter if you are compatible, even if one of you is a prospective tenant. One of you is a religious renunciate craving a quiet peaceful life, and the other is a wild partier with lots of friends. One of you has young children and the other is a collector of delicate figurines and loves to have them out on display. Do each other a favor and speak the truth, in the nicest way possible. No one has to say anything legally incriminating about religion or children. The one offering the housing could say, “I’m going to wait a week or two so that I have a few applicants to choose from.”
3. Be Realistic About What You Can Tolerate
One of you is allergic to cats and the other has five of them. At least in this case you can say what the real issue is without hurting anyone’s feelings. One of you is a neat freak minimalist and the other a hoarder who feels too time pressured to keep things organized and put away. Why make life harder than it already is? Find a way of saying, “I don’t think it would work out.”
A founder’s group is not subject to discrimination laws because it is a friendship group and/or a business partnership, not an employee relationship or a landlord/tenant relationship. Even if one or more members owns property, you might end up moving to a different property based on the needs of the group. Don’t let fears about a few bad actors prevent you from creating the community of your dreams.
Established Residential ICs
Intentional communities are about shared space or shared housing, so we need to tease out the difference. If you are an established intentional community, you do need to be careful to avoid discrimination. The best way of making sure you have compatible people coming in when there’s a vacancy is to keep a waiting list and invite prospective members to join certain events so you can get better acquainted. That way you will never have to advertise a unit. However, you could legally advertise to invite people to join an event and get on your waiting list.
There may be a legal exception you could get from local housing authorities. For example, retirement homes have an exemption from laws against age and gender discrimination. If you have a non-profit with a stated mandate to serve a particular group, that is likely to hold up in court if you were to be challenged about who you are giving preferential treatment to. If you have substantial assets to protect, seek legal help relevant to your jurisdiction.