After spending my freshman year of college crammed in what was formerly a “single” dorm room with a disgustingly dirty roommate, I was determined to find different housing options for the rest of my undergraduate career. I was sick and tired of living amongst mountains of old take-out containers and rotting banana peels in a noisy mold- ridden dorm. I wanted to move off campus; somewhere I could get away from the hecticness of school and live amongst regular people, not students. I know most people see their college years living with hundreds of other students to be their glory days, but it just wasn’t for me.
This is what sparked my interest in off-campus apartment living. I thought this would be an easy task, especially in a city like Philadelphia, where there is a boom in housing developments waiting to be rented out, but I was wrong.
I researched my options, and when I found a couple apartments I liked, I’d walk over to gather more information.
I reached out to each landlord, and would politely ask if I could have a tour of the unit. After each tour, the landlords would begin to ask me some additional questions which seemed very normal. But they all ended asking the same question, “are you an undergraduate or recent graduate?”
Not thinking much of this question, I answered honestly: “I am currently an undergrad at a university in the city. And this is where every meeting reached a grinding halt. All the landlords said they don’t rent to undergraduates, it’s a “house rule” and that I should come back to look at apartment options after I have graduated. Needless to say, I left all of those meetings vexed.
How can they deny me an apartment simply because I was an undergraduate? Is that even legal? I was angry at myself for even telling them the truth. If I told them I wasn’t a student, maybe they would’ve rented to me. What right do they have to ask me that? What was the difference between a 19 year old with a job, and a 19 year old student? I thought there was no way a landlord could legally discriminate against students. So, I did some research. Essentially, what I found out was that landlords can (legally) pick and choose who they rent their properties to as long as they are not discriminating against a group that is protected under The Federal Fair Housing Acts. These acts protect from discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, gender, age, familial status, physical or mental disability, and some states also have passed laws protecting discrimination based on marital status, gender identity, and sexual orientation. But unprotected groups like students, animal owners, smokers, those without proper employment, and those with criminal records can be discriminated against. I felt defeated and forced accept my fate.
…or was I?
In the end, I worked the system by having my parents sign the lease and simply add my name to the list of approved roommates. Although I was the only one living in my new apartment at the time, it was legally rented in my parents’ name. I wasn’t proud, but I achieved my goal. No more college roommates.
Has anyone experienced something similar to this? If so, what actions did you take?