Prince George's Councilman Francis White introduced legislation Tuesday that would permit landlords and homeowners to refuse to rent or sell to unmarried couples.
The bill, which amends the Human Realations Commission Act of 1972, defines marital status as being either "married, single, widowed, separated, or divorced" and allows landlords to "restrict occupancy of dwellings to persons who are related by blood, marriage, or adoption."
The proposal also would permit property owners and landlords to refuse to sell or rent to singles of the same sex.
Public hearings on the measure will be scheduled by the Council later.
The legislation would enable landlords to "structure their projects the way they want to," said White. "It doesn't mean all landlords are going to adopt restrictions on tenants. But If a project desires to have these regulations, they may."
White initiated the legislation after discrimination was alleged by an unmarried couple who tried to buy a home owned by Greenbelt Homes, Inc., a Greenbelt housing cooperative. The by-laws of the cooperative require blood or marriage relationship for the sale of cooperative housing shares and use of housing units.
White said, "If Greenbelt cannot structure their project, it would destroy their whole family-oriented concept. It would begin reverse discrimination."
Over half of the homes and apartments in Prince George's County are rental units. Many of these units are located in the area surrounding the University of Maryland and occupied by students sharing apartments.
William Welch, director of the human relations commission, which handles housing discrimination complaints, said he is opposed to the legislation. "Marriage is not presently under legislation. It should not be a requirement for the use of housing. Morality should not enter into it.
"This is going to discriminate against females more than any other (group). They are traditionally the lowest paid in society and with the average cost of apartments in the county, they cannot afford safe, adequate housing on their own."
Welch also pointed to a growing number of men and women who live together simply as roommates. "They may choose to live together for a variety of reasons, safely, protection, home cooking, etc. Society is not a static thing. We have to consider that society is dynamic. We do not have the right to regulate how and where people live."
Nancy Stevens, a member of the Landlord-Tenant Commission, manages several high-rise complexes in Baltimore. She managed garden apartments in Prince George's County for many years and supports the legislation.
"This is giving the landlords back some of their rights. Before the definition of marital status, we had to rent of unmarried couples. Now the bill will allow us to refuse a couple.
"Many tenants get very angry with us for renting to unmarried people. They wonder if we don't care about the morals of their children."
She said she would rent to an unmarried couple who said they were married. "As long as they use discretion, I'm not going to ask for a marriage license."
While the bill could restrict rentals or sales to singles of the same sex, Commissioner Stevens she would not use it to refuse them.
White noted that landlords could create separate areas for singles as they have done for family groups.