Non-discrimination in renting
How to respect anti-discrimination regulations while still protecting yourself from risk as an owner
Because of prejudice, which can stem from many sources, it’s possible for any of us to discriminate, even without realising it. All it takes is one negative experience with an individual for us to generalise and end up refusing to rent to certain groups of people, even though we might think we’re merely protecting our own interests. Because of this, laws exist to helps us mitigate our own tendency to discriminate and to protect us from discrimination ourselves.
Legally, discrimination occurs when one person is treated less favourably than another within a comparable situation and when such treatment is unjustified.
For example: refusing to rent to parents because of concerns about possible damages to the premises or refusing to rent to tenants from sub-Saharan Africa because they might upset the neighbours.
What the law says
The law forbids discrimination in many situations, notably with regard to accessing goods and services (housing, credit, recreation, etc.). The penalty for unjust discrimination against renters is 3 years in prison and a €45,000 fine for individual owners (“personnes physiques” in French) and up to €225,000 for legal entities such as property management companies (“personnes morales” in French).
The framework of the law
The criteria for discrimination as defined by the Court of Justice of the European Union are the following: age, sex, origin, pregnancy, health, disability, genetic traits, sexual orientation, gender identity, political opinions, union affiliation, philosophical opinions, and religion or beliefs. The French legal system has added to this list one’s family situation, physical appearance, last name, morals, place of residence, loss of independence, vulnerability due to one’s economic situation, and location of one’s bank.
The only criteria one can use when selecting a potential tenant are 1) the potential tenant’s financial means and 2) the potential tenant’s guaranty (usually a deposit or guarantor). Furthermore, the November 5, 2015 decree strictly limits the list of documents an owner can ask for (see full text).
The law is clear. It challenges you to reconsider your subjective criteria based on your own impressions or prejudices so you can better concentrate on choosing the best candidates: that is, those whose financial stability and solvency are well-attested. To ensure the best experience when renting, while also avoiding unjust discrimination, one should select renters based on their overall financial situation (salary, other income, but also any other benefits) and their guaranty (usually a guarantor or insurance covering non-payments).
If you use an estate agency, be sure to include a non-discrimination clause in the lease. It will protect you in case of litigation.