Originally published at the Gay Law Report.

Usually landlords, whether they are managing a house or apartment, care about one thing: getting paid.

Rainbow flag

What protections do LGTBQ tenants have against homophobic landlords?

But sometimes a landlord will go beyond that. A landlord might decide that a prospective tenant shouldn’t live in the property not because there will be an issue with paying rent, but because that tenant is gay. Or, even more subtly, the landlord will still contract with the tenant, but then treat the tenant obnoxiously or otherwise invade their privacy.

In addition to being an attorney focusing on the LGBT community, I also am an eviction and tenants rights attorney, so I’ve seen both sides of this issue.

Generally, discrimination usually pops up when the landlord meets the tenant. The landlord will ask specific questions about your relationship with your partner and inquire whether that relationship is sexual and intimate. Or, one day you may receive notice that the landlord is terminating your lease after you suspect he or she has learned about your same-sex relationship.

What can you do?

Like many things in life, the answer is: it depends. Primarily, it depends on whether you live in a city, state, or county that offers protections to LGBT tenants against discrimination. Any state that allows same-sex marriage, plus many other states, do have these protections. In those areas, if your rental application is denied because you are gay, you could file a complaint against the landlord. But as a practical matter, it may just be better to look elsewhere. After all, why deal with a landlord that is going to be prejudiced against you?

If you do not live in one of these areas, there is probably nothing you can do. There is no protection under federal law against LGBT discrimination in housing situations, so without local protection, the landlord is free to discriminate all he wants.

However, if the landlord tries to terminate an existing lease just because of your sexual orientation, then you probably have a legitimate claim against that landlord no matter where you live. Landlords cannot just break leases willy-nilly simply because they do not like the tenant personally. They can only break the lease for reasons allowed under the lease or under state law. No state allows a landlord to break a lease merely because the tenant is gay. Even if you are on a month-to-month lease, the landlord must still comply with state laws regarding how to terminate that lease, and he cannot do it early simply because he doesn’t like how you live your life.

For specific information about your situation, contact an attorney in your state.

Photo by Kevin Wong released under a Creative Commons license.