Is It Legal to Advertise for a Gay Roommate?

Last Updated Apr 21, 2009 2:32 PM EDT

Dear Ali:
My wife and I own a condo in New York, and our roommate is a gay man who's an old friend. We're moving to another city, and he's staying in the condo. In advertising for a new roommate, can he specify that he wants some who's also a gay man without violating the Fair Housing laws?
A: No, he can't.

In New York State, filtering potential tenants on the basis of sexual orientation is a violation of the state's Human Rights Law. (The same goes for buyers -- what if you put your roommate in charge of selling the condo?)

Not every state has that standard -- and the country sure doesn't -- but there is a national standard of gender equality. Looking for a gay male roommate means discriminating against female roommates of all orientation. Discrimination is illegal and a violation of national Fair Housing standards, and penalties for gender discrimination in rental housing can include a fine of up to $10,000 plus court costs. Your tenant could technically advertise for a "gay" roommate -- but only as long as he's willing to live with either a gay man or a lesbian.

On top of all that, it seems extremely uncool to me that someone who has probably experienced discrimination because of their sexual preference thinks that sexual preference is a good filter for picking a roommate. Do you really want to have as a tenant someone who wouldn't have wanted you and your wife as roommates, if you hadn't been the owners of the condo?

I'd be curious to hear other people's views on this.

  • Alison Rogers

    Since graduating from Harvard summa cum laude, Alison Rogers has been a reporter, an editor, a real-estate agent, a Wall Street desk jockey, a columnist, a failed flipper, and a landlady. A member of the National Association of Realtors, she currently sells and rents luxury co-ops in Manhattan for the Chelsea-based firm DG Neary. (If you've got $27,500 a month, the firm has an apartment for you!) Her book, Diary of a Real Estate Rookie, was called "a valuable guide for rookie buyers" by AOL/Walletpop, "beach-read fun" by the New York Observer, and "witty" by Newsweek.