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landlord/tenant Q&A

LAURENE H. YOUNG, (B) MPM, RMP, REALTOR
Young Hawaii Homes, Inc.
2011 President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers

Q. I am renting out 3 rooms in my house, do I have to provide parking? Am I allowed to choose only women, I would feel much more comfortable than having a man in my house. I am not sure if that is discrimination though.

A. I’ll deal with the easy part first. You do not have to include parking with your units. Your neighbors might complain, though, if there are 6 extra cars taking up all the street parking, so be mindful of that.

The Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status (Hawaii includes age, sexual orientation, marital status, gender identity expression and HIV status). There are a few exemptions to the Fair

Housing Act. In Hawaii, they include housing for older persons as defined under the act (a senior facility), religious organizations and nonprofit institutions associated with religious organizations who are renting dwellings they own and operate for non-commercial reasons to persons of the same religion (a church renting only to members of their faith), and the Mrs. Murphy Exemption.

The Mrs. Murphy exemption is what will allow you to discriminate to some degree in your circumstance. Mrs. Murphy was not a real person but based on a hypothetical elderly small boarding home owner living in one of her 4 units and trying to supplement her limited income. The exemption makes sense if Mrs. Murphy wants to have only females in her home if she will be sharing the bathroom and other living spaces with them. It makes less sense if there are 4 separate dwellings with separate entrances and she doesn’t have to associate with the tenants.

The Mrs. Murphy exemption does NOT apply to advertising. You cannot say “females only”, “couples only”, “adults only”, “no children”, “no wheelchairs”, “able bodied only”, “whites only”, “perfect for families”, etc. in your ad. Use of a direction in relation to a religious site, a racially significant landmark, or an ethnic market might be seen as a discriminatory practice. Calling attention to a country club or private school nearby could also be seen as discriminatory. Focus on the property and not the type of tenant you think this property would appeal to or a specific type of tenant you want to rent your unit. Place your ad on a widely seen website or the local city newspaper.

You should not target a specific group by only advertising in their religious or ethnic newspapers with limited circulation. Similarly, you should not target a specific group by only distributing brochures or mailings, or post signs, displays, or similar advertisements only in those geographical areas where you believe they frequent.

Here are some things to include in your non-discriminatory ad: the monthly rent, number of bedrooms and baths, location of the unit, if parking or any utilities are included, when the unit is available, some of the best features of the unit and your contact information. (If you are a licensed real estate agent, you are subject to additional advertising requirements.)

So, how do you get a tenant? I suppose you would have to advertise in a non-discriminatory way, take lots of calls, show the unit to all potential tenants and accept or deny them based on your criteria. Telling someone over the phone that you are looking only for females to share your personal residence will be taken better than telling them that you only want white Christian married couples without children in your 4-plex or that you will not accept a certain race. Having a Mrs. Murphy dwelling does not guarantee that you will not be sued for discrimination. Be reasonable. Nevertheless, the exemption affords Mrs. Murphy owners some protection from discrimination charges.

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