Can We Refuse to Rent to Unmarried Couples?


If an unmarried couple wants to rent our rental home can we have only the man who is working sign the lease? We don’t want to have the live-in lady to have her name on the lease in case the boyfriend leaves as she has no income. If her name isn’t on the lease and he leaves her we could then ask her to leave, but if her name is on the lease then it would be difficult to ask her to leave and she has no means to pay the rent. Also can we refuse to rent to unmarried couples?

In my opinion, there is almost never a reason to not have every adult sign a lease. On the contrary, there are numerous reasons why every adult should be required to sign, some of which are discussed herein.

Federal, state, and local fair housing laws protect against housing discrimination. You will need to research your state and local fair housing laws to determine if there is an applicable statute protecting unmarried couples from housing discrimination. Many states do allow a landlord to use unmarried status as criteria for refusing an application. If allowed by law and your rental standards you must be sure to apply your standards to all applicants. Each and every applicant must be screened using the same rental criteria, in the same manner, every time.

At a minimum, landlords should require that each applicant:

  • Be of legal age (18, 19, or 21, depending on state) or an emancipated minor,
  • Complete and sign a rental application,
  • Sign an authorization of release of personal information form for credit reports, employment, rental history, eviction report, and criminal history, and
  • Present at least two forms of personal identification, with at least one being a government-issued photo ID.

Every occupant, age of maturity or emancipated (including spouses), should be named on the lease agreement. In the event one occupant defaults, you have recourse against the other tenant. The fact that one tenant has no income at the time of application does not mean he/she cannot be collected from in the future – he/she may later be employed, win the lottery, or marry someone of significant financial status. Judgments against a person who had no income or assets at the time the judgment was obtained can be collectable for many years later and in other states. And if the person seeks credit at a later date (including when applying to rent) provides leverage for payment because credit grantors sometimes require payment of judgments as a condition of granting credit.

If the boyfriend leaves you can certainly “ask” the lady to leave, but if she refuses you will have to legally evict her or any other person who has moved in, potentially costing you the same time,
money, and stress as if she had been a wife. This is one reason why eviction complaints should usually include “John Does” as defendants. Having the unemployed person(s) sign the lease assures the ability to obtain a judgment
against that person.

In general, the more people who can potentially be held liable for rent and damages the better the chance the landlord will eventually collect what’s owed.

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Can you tell me where I can find notices for my tenant to clean the swimming pool?


There is unlikely to be available a notice form specific to this issue, but you could use a generic “cure or quit” notice and state the issue as being a default of the lease. What you can do may depend on whether or not the lease agreement adequately specifies the tenant’s responsibilities regarding cleaning the pool. If he fails to clean it as often and to the degree specified in the agreement, or reasonably adequate if the degree is not specified, you can serve him with a “cure or quit” notice (the type of notice available and its exact name varies by state). If he fails to cure the problem within the time period specified by the law of your state, you can begin the eviction process. Depending on what the lease agreement says on the matter, you might also be able to pay someone else to do the work and bill the tenant for the cost.

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The lease agreement specified no pets. I knew at least 2 large dogs were there and tenant failed to have them removed per my request. Tenant is now out but the dogs seriously damaged carpeting. I had to replace carpet that was otherwise in perfectly good condition. Do I need to prorate the price of carpet and installation in this instance? Carpet at three interior doors has been scratched to the backing and I have not yet had it replaced. Also, the house still really reeks of urine after installing the new carpeting. Is there a way to remove the smell and do I have recourse here?

The tenant quit paying rent during the 60-day notice and there is no security deposit. I Plan to file a small claims action when the final tally has been made.


Proration replacement cost – You cannot charge the tenant for the total cost of replacing the entire carpet in the unit. There are two different issues regarding this issue. First, depending on the floor plan and the location of carpeting, it may be acceptable to replace carpeting in only certain rooms. Second, wherever carpeting is replaced you cannot charge for the full cost of carpeting, but must allow for depreciation.  The percentage of cost of replacing damaged carpet (labor and materials) that may be charged against the tenant is determined by dividing the number of years the carpet has been in service (including the period the unit was occupied by the tenant who damaged the carpet) by the useful life of the carpet. There is more than one number that might be justifiable for useful life, but it is usually least arguable to use the number of years warranted by the manufacturer.

As examples, assume a carpet that the manufacturer had warranted for 15 years. If the carpet was 10 years old when the tenant vacated the unit, the tenant can be charged 5/15 = 33.3% of the replacement cost. If the carpet had been new when the tenant moved in a year earlier, the tenant can be charged 14/15 = 93.3% of replacement cost. If the carpet was 14 years old when the tenant moved into the unit and the tenant remained for one year or more, the tenant cannot be charged any part of the cost of replacement.

Similar considerations must be given to window coverings, appliances, and other components of a rental that would be considered capital items (have a typical useful life of longer than a year) when they require replacement rather than repair.

Regarding the carpeting at doors that hasn’t been replaced, you could proceed as with the other carpeting as long as the departed tenant caused the damage as evidenced by the move-in and move-out checklist.

The smell – While there are a number of products available for the do-it-yourselfer, it is often better to hire a competent vendor. Often, it is necessary to deal with the problem at the source of the odor. This may mean treating the underlying flooring – be it concrete or wood – and to replace not only carpet and pad, but also all carpet strips that have been exposed to the urine. Unless this is done, following installation of new carpet and pad alone one may find that the bad odor often returns after the “new carpet” smell goes away. Accordingly, although you have already replaced carpeting, if flooring and/or carpet strips were not previously adequately dealt with you may have to have the carpeting pulled up and proceed with adequate treatment related to flooring and carpets strips and also treat the new carpeting that was in contact with problems underneath.

Landlords can usually charge a departed tenant for the full cost of dealing with the urine problem.

Unfortunately, a significant percentage of applicants will have pets and even more will likely have them in the future and they won’t always obey lease terms regarding pets. Accordingly, under some economic conditions, in some market areas, and for some types of property it sometimes becomes necessary to consider allowing pets in order to fill a vacancy without otherwise lowering qualifying criteria. Allowing pets, but utilizing adequate lease clauses can be better than dealing with the results of unauthorized animals.

It is often better to select a tenant who has pets and has a good credit record, has no criminal record, has a good rental history, has been employed at his current job for several years and has income that is more than sufficient to pay the rent and all other financial obligations than to select a tenant who has no pet but is seriously deficient in one or more of the above or other qualifying criteria.

For landlords who have desirable property and when there is a good rental market, it can be possible to prohibit pets and still have an adequate pool of applicants. When it is necessary to allow pets in order to obtain an otherwise acceptable tenant, having adequate procedures and documentation in place is important in minimizing potential problems.

Having an adequate lease agreement is very important, including clauses that specify in detail the penalties for having animals without written approval of the landlord. Within the lease agreement or as a separate document tied to the lease agreement there must be an adequate animal agreement. Finally, a security deposit of the maximum amount allowed by state law and, if allowed by state law, also a separate pet deposit.  Discussions of these issues are available in our eCourses, Mini Training Guides, and Blogs.

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