Ronald Yaffe and his fiance planned to begin living together about a month before getting married. But when Yaffe went to the Parkside Aprtments in Bethesda last year to see about renting a unit the clerk refused to show him a unit.

"We don't rent to unmarried couples," Zana Darnell, the manager of the garden apartment complex later told Yaffe by telephone. "That's our policy."

The Yaffes -- the two have since married -- and three other couples filed complaints with the Montgomery County Human Relations Commission, which completed taking testimony Tuesday night. The panel is expected to issue a decision within 30 days in what is the first legal test of a 1974 county fair housing law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of martial status.

The challenge is expected to resolve whether the marital status provision, intended to protect divorced women who depend on alimony or child support payments for rent money, extends to couples living out of wedlock.

A similar law in the District of Columbia has apparently gone untested in the case of unmarried couples, according to the District's Human relations Commission. In Virginia, a state cohabitation law prohibiting lewd and lascivious behavior leaves such couples with no legal recourse, officials said. l

At Parkdale in Bethesda, prospective tenants were given a printed sheet of rules which tells unmarried couples they are ineligible. Nevertheless, the Yaffes and others said some couples hve tried to skirt the policy.

Steven Geller, who also filed a complaint against Parkside, originally stated on an application that he was married, according to testimony before the commission. But when the apartment managers asked for a marriage certificate for Geller and his friend, Suzanne Ackerman, Geller acknowledged he was not married and was refused an apartment.

Geller is asking that Parkside, which is being converted to condominiums, sell him an apartment at the lower price offered tenants. The Yaffes are asking $2,500 for "mental anguish."

Parkside manager Darnell said yesterday that Parkside's policy resulted from "economic" considerations.

"Parkside for many years has had a lot of middle aged and older tenants," Darnell said. "In several buildings, a single person would move in his girlfriend or boyfriend and we'd have as many as three tenants from that building move out. We started losing tenants and losing money."

Parkside also refused to rent to two single persons if the weekly salary of one was not equal to a month's rent, according to testimony.

Assistant county attorney Suzanne Levin, who represents the complainants, is arguing that this rule also discriminates against unmarried couples since married people can combine their salaries.