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Rental discrimination?

I’m a single woman and I have a spare bedroom at my home in Napa and am considering renting it out to help me pay my mortgage. Is it legal to only accept a female tenant? Can I require that my tenant not cook in her room, have overnight guests or smoke at my house?

Generally speaking, a landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant on the basis of race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, source of income, disability, and several other protected classifications. However, the rules are different for roommates.

If you own and live in a single-family home and want to rent out a room, and there are no other roomers living in the house, you are not subject to the same unlawful discrimination restrictions, with some exceptions.

You cannot make oral or written statements or create advertisements that show any kind of preference or discrimination based on the characteristics listed above. You also cannot discriminate based on age or a medical condition. You may express a gender preference if you are sharing living areas with the roommate, like a kitchen or bathroom.

If there’s one piece of advice I could offer, please have your roommate sign a lease. It may sound like overkill, but I assure you it is absolutely necessary if you wish to have a good relationship with your renter. You can have a lease drafted by a competent attorney, or you may choose to obtain a prepared form that conforms to California law and meets your specific needs.

Putting it in writing now can help avoid ambiguity down the road and prevent future disputes. Discuss each and every provision of the lease, especially any that impose special responsibilities on your tenant. If you have made any promises to the prospective tenant, the terms should be included in the lease.

You may designate certain areas for cooking, if you want to ensure that your roommate doesn’t cook in her room. I recommend that if you’re going to restrict overnight guests, you limit the number of consecutive days that the tenant may have a guest on the premises, or limit the number of guests at any one time.

You may also prohibit the smoking of tobacco products. If you ban tobacco in the lease agreement, you must specify the areas on the property where smoking is prohibited.

If you’re ever in doubt about what to do in a landlord/tenant situation, I recommend contacting your local fair housing organization, or a qualified attorney who specializes in this area.

Mary Luros is a business law attorney with Hudson & Luros LLP in Napa, and can be reached at mary@hudsonluros.com. The information provided here is not legal advice, nor does it form an attorney-client relationship with the author. The author makes no representations as to the reliability or accuracy of the above information.

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