As both a devout Christian and a property owner, working within the confines of the law can sometimes mean going against your personal religious beliefs. Where can we draw the line?
Here’s what Christian landlords need to know:
Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity
Under the Federal Fair Housing Act, which was passedin 1968, landlords cannot refuse to discriminate based on certain identity markers – including race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The law would be further amended in 1989 to prohibit discrimination based on disability or familial status.
In this case, familial status refers specifically to pregnant women and/or the presence of children under the age of 18 – including single parents with children. An example of the Fair Housing Act in action is one, somewhat bizarre, case from 2011, in which a Wisconsin landlord refused to rent a property to a single mother because there was no man “to shovel the snow.” The landlord was subsequently sued by the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
But What About Unmarried Couples?
There are a number of reasons why Christian landlords may feel uncomfortable renting to unmarried couples. First off, young adults who are unmarried and cohabitating can pose logistical concerns, according to Houston property management firm Green Residential. Young adults and college students can pose noise problems, for example, so it’s important to build these concerns into a clear, customized lease agreement.
However, young unmarried couples can be even more complicated. These young people are not bound by the principles of marriage, which means that if the relationship dissolves, you’re left with the logistical nightmare of dealing with one person wanting to break the lease or both wanting to suddenly move out.
In April of 2016, Florida repealed a law that explicitly stated that unmarried couples could not cohabit. Two states remain with laws on the books against unmarried cohabitation: Mississippi and Michigan – and in the case of Michigan, the law may also be on its way out. However, it’s important to note that many states don’t explicitly prohibit landlords from discriminating against unmarried cohabiters.
At What Point Are We Complicit in the Sins of Others?
But for many Christians, the problem of premarital sex under your roof is not just logistical in nature – it’s also a question with moral implications, and it depends on the type of Christian you are. Pastor John Piper of Desiring God believes that Christians are not responsible for the sins of nonbelievers, such that it’s understandable not to want to police the private space (including the bedrooms) of those who are unmarried in the eyes of God.
However, Pastor John also argues that we should avoid communicating the message that Christians are indifferent to sinful behavior. While guests should generally conform to the expectations of their hosts, the matter becomes difficult to parse out when there is a rental contract involved.
What to Do?
Ultimately, you’ll have to remember that a single person could rent your property and then commit sins under your roof without prior knowledge. If you live in a state that doesn’t prohibit discretion on the basis of a couple’s marital status, you can legally refuse to rent to such couples – keeping in mind that you still have no legal basis to refuse to rent to single parents and, yes, even single pregnant women.
One way to mitigate the issue is to work with a rental or property management agency that will be able to navigate the law for you in a way that assures as much compromise as possible in your state of residence. By using a service like this, you’ll remove yourself from the process and, subsequently, avoid cooperation in something you don’t believe in.