Dear Susie,

I’ve been looking for a one-bedroom apartment in Washington, DC, for my 3-year old daughter and myself. As I’ve been searching for one-bedrooms on Craigslist, I keep coming across ads stating that the unit is available for “a single or couple” or that it is “single occupancy only.”  Is it legal for a landlord to advertise that they will only to rent to one person or only to adults?


A Frustrated Parent


Hello Frustrated Parent,

Looking for housing in Washington, DC, especially for families with children, can be extremely difficult. Your frustration is understandable. Familial status, or the presence of kids under 18 in a household, is a protected characteristic under the federal Fair Housing Act. That means discrimination based on your familial status is illegal. Advertisements indicating a preference for renting only to adults without children, such as “single or couple only,” may be illegal under the Fair Housing Act. However, we are not able to offer legal advice. For legal advice, you should contact an attorney.

The familial status protection does not prevent landlords or local governments from maintaining reasonable occupancy standards in housing for the legitimate purposes of safety and habitability.  Under the “Keating Memo” issued by HUD in 1991, a good rule of thumb for occupancy standards is two individuals per bedroom. The DC Human Rights Act also states that residential occupancy standards should be no more restrictive than the following: 2 individuals for an efficiency and, for one-bedroom units and larger, two times the number of bedrooms plus one. Based on this, one-bedroom units should generally allow at least three occupants. Advertisements for one-bedrooms indicating that the units are single occupancy only may be illegal under the Fair Housing Act.

If you believe that you have experienced discrimination, we may be able to conduct civil rights testing on your behalf to determine if and how discrimination is occurring at a property. Civil rights testing pairs two individuals posing as interested housing applicants at a property. They would generally have similar characteristics, except for one identity. In this case, one tester would have children and the other wouldn’t. The ERC would compare the testers’ experiences to see if they are provided the same information and treated similarly by the landlord. Significant differences in treatment may indicate that familial status based discrimination is occurring. The testing may also determine if a landlord is using a reasonable occupancy standard or if their occupancy standard is possibly violating the Fair Housing Act.

You can report your experiences to the ERC by calling 202-234-3062 or by filling out a short form online. Once we conduct an intake with you, we may be able to assist with testing and even with filing a fair housing complaint. Regardless, I wish you luck with your current housing search and I hope that you’re able to find a place soon.


The Equal Rights Center

Have a question about housing discrimination in the Washington DC metro? Want to a report a potential instance of housing discrimination? Contact Susie by calling 202-234-3062.

There are many things to consider when finding a home. Discrimination isn’t one of them.

In 2017, The ERC launched its Fair Housing Advice Column! The Equal Rights Center is the only fair housing organization in Greater Washington, DC providing direct services to individuals that believe they may have experienced housing discrimination. We know that many residents of Greater Washington, DC have questions about possible housing discrimination as they search for and reside in their homes. We are here to educate residents on their fair housing rights and advocate on their behalf.

We want to hear from you! Please reach out to us with your questions, scenarios and inquiries. We will be publishing some of your entries (anonymously) with responses from our expert fair housing staff.

For immediate information on discrimination and protected classes in the Greater Washington area, please visit our Fair Housing Page. Additionally, if you feel you have experienced or witnessed housing discrimination and would like to report it, please submit a lead here.

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