Fox news picked up on a story about a 31-year-old woman who posted an ad on her church bulletin board looking for a Christian roommate. Someone saw it and filed an anti-discrimination complaint with the Fair Housing Center who then referred it to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The Christian Right is up at arms over it.
The truth is that it is illegal to state a religious, racial, national, disability/handicapped, or familial status preference when placing an ad in public. This has been true since the federal Fair Housing Law went into effect in 1968. This law is designed to protect citizens from unfair housing practices. It’s logical extension includes advertising for roommates. Craigslist posts a very clear statement about all this on each of its housing pages. (Look for the link at the top that says, “stating a discriminatory preference in a housing post is illegal.”)
It is not illegal, however, to select a roommate based on personal preferences. Nor is it illegal to for the poster to say who he/she is, e.g. “Christian woman” or “gay male” or ” single-mother.” That’s why it always pays to follow a careful and considerate selection process. It is possible to be descriptive about your personal likes and interests. For instance, I recently advised someone looking for a housemate, who was a member of an international Buddhist group, to put that information in her ad so that it might attract someone who is also a member of that group.
It is good to stay clear of seeming to be discriminatory – just like in a job interview. Turning down someone as a potential housemate can be a simple, “I don’t think it’s a good fit.” And leave it at that. You do have a right to live with the people you choose to.
Check out this article about navigating the pitfalls of shared housing: Roommates: Remembering the Bad Ones, Forgetting the Good Ones