Selecting tenants

Landlords are subject to federal and state Fair Housing laws when selecting tenants. Under these laws, there are a number of protected categories and statuses that landlords are prohibited from considering in their selection of tenants. Mobile home and lot rentals are also subject to these laws. Discrimination on the basis of any one or more of these categories can result in an investigation and/or a lawsuit for a landlord.

For more details and the complete wording of these laws, see the federal Fair Housing Act and the Vermont Fair Housing Act.

For help understanding a landlord's responsibilities contact the Vermont Apartment Owners Association.

Knowing the law

Under the federal Fair Housing Act, landlords cannot discriminate on the basis of the following categories:

  • Race
  • Color
  • National origin
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Family status (Parent[s] with children or pregnant women)
  • Disability

The Vermont Fair Housing Act has added the following protected categories:

  • Age
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Receipt of public assistance
  • Gender identity

Under these laws, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate on the basis of a protected category. If a landlord is found to be discriminating on the basis of any of these characteristics, he or she is subject to investigation and legal action. Examples of discriminatory action include:

  • Refusing to rent housing
  • Refusing to show rentals
  • Suggesting available rentals are not available
  • Setting different terms, conditions, or privileges for a rental


However, there is some information landlords can consider and base a rental decision on when selecting tenants because they are legitimate business practices.

Landlords can:

  • Require references
  • Refuse to rent to someone on the basis of:
    • Lack of income to pay rent
    • A history of not paying rent
    • A history of objectionable behavior in prior rentals (For example: property damage, noise complaints, disturbing other residents, etc.)

Additionally, there are some exemptions to the Vermont Fair Housing standards. These include:

  • Buildings with three or fewer dwelling units, if the owner or a member of the owner's immediate family is living in one of the units
  • Rental units that are inadequate to accommodate the number of people in a family based on reasonable occupancy standards
  • Rental units specifically designated for rental only to the elderly, generally providing significant elder care services
  • Refusing to rent to underage tenants (except emancipated minors)
  • Religious organizations who give preference to tenants solely on the basis of religion

Tenants with disabilities

In addition to it being illegal for landlords to discriminate against tenants with disabilities, landlords must make reasonable accommodations for tenants with disabilities.

Landlords cannot:

  • Ask tenants if they have a disability
  • Refuse to allow a tenant with a disability to make reasonable modifications to a dwelling unit or common space at the expense of the tenant
  • Refuse to make "reasonable accommodations" to the rules, practices, or services of a dwelling when needed by the tenant (For example, allowing a service animal if the building has a no pets rule)

Landlords can:

  • Once the tenant has asked for accommodations to be made, ask the tenant to provide proof of a disability or need for an accommodation
  • If reasonable, require the tenant to restore a dwelling unit or common space to its original condition

Rental applications/fees

Landlords can:

  • Require tenants to apply for a rental by filling out an application
  • Ask for a variety of information on an application including:
    • Marital status
    • Family composition
    • Source of income
    • Sex

Landlords cannot:

  • Use this information to discriminate against a potential tenant
  • Charge a fee for potential tenants to fill out an application for a rental