This post was adapted from Rental Report: When and How You Should Start Your Apartment Search. You can find the original post, here.

At some point during your rental search, you’ll likely hear a reference to Fair Housing. But what do Fair Housing regulations really mean?

The Rule – The federal Fair Housing Law prohibits “housing discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status (families with children under age 18).” In addition to the federal law, DC includes age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, gender identity, family responsibilities, and political affiliation as protected classes.

The Meaning – As long as you meet the income, credit, employment and background requirements for a particular apartment, the landlord cannot turn you down for an apartment rental. In addition to renting a property, a property manager, landlord or real estate agent cannot refuse to show you a property you qualify for or are interested in based on any assumptions they have regarding a protected class.

For Renters – As a renter in DC, especially when you are new to the area, you likely have a lot of questions about neighborhoods and building demographics. Understand that the real estate or leasing agent, by law, cannot answer specific questions regarding area demographics or safety.

They can recommend sources for you to do your own research, but always take internet commentary with a grain of salt. Everyone has different opinions. You might find it helpful to observe people in the neighborhood and building during different times of the day. This can give you a good idea of the breakdown, and help you determine if a particular place meets your needs.

For Landlords – First and foremost, be sure your qualifications are clear to renters. Put the qualifications in your advertising and email them to prospective renters. If you turn down an offer on your apartment from a renter, you want to be crystal clear the reason is based on one of your qualifications not being met. For example, they do not meet your financial standards, or they haven’t been employed long enough.

Whatever the reason, be sure you let them know up front your exact expectations. Keep in mind that many people moving to DC are first-time renters with their first jobs out of school, so be clear on whether you will accept co-signers to help bridge the gap for those with minimal rental and credit histories. Landlords, if you are listing your place without the help of an agent, be aware of Fair Housing when advertising your property. Comments such as, “great for roommates” or “will only consider singles” in your ads are unacceptable.

Overall, Fair Housing is meant to protect renters and buyers from discrimination. It can be frustrating when you aren’t familiar with an area, because you can’t get a straight answer. Just know that those working to help you aren’t trying to be difficult, they are normally trying to follow the rules to treat everyone equally.

Have questions or complaints? DC Office of Human Rights at (202) 727-4559.