A Seattle area homeowner is offering $200 off the listed rent for his three-bedroom luxury townhome to people who don’t eat meat.
Jinesh Varia and his wife moved out of the home in suburban Bothell when their baby starting crawling. They decided to rent it, rather than sell it, to take advantage of the Seattle real estate boom. The townhome features a spacious backyard, a Jacuzzi tub and modern upgrades.
Although the policy does not appear to be discriminatory on its face, there may be an instance where the practice or application of the policy may have a discriminatory effect or impact that may give rise to a possible violation under the Fair Housing Act.”
But Varia, a strict vegetarian, would like his tenants to adhere to a diet like his, so he’s offering to cut their rent if they do.
"Ethically and morally, it's extremely important to be vegetarian," Varia told King 5 news. He said he and his wife are members of Vegetarians of Washington and want to spread the no-meat gospel — so they’re offering to knock $200 off the $2,200 advertised monthly rate if their tenants don’t eat meat.
But does that discriminate against meat eaters? Is it legal?
“This appears to be a facially neutral policy, giving vegetarian and vegan tenants a discount on rent,” Lee Jones, HUD Public Affairs director for the Northwest region, told FoxNews.com. “Although the policy does not appear to be discriminatory on its face, there may be an instance where the practice or application of the policy may have a discriminatory effect or impact that may give rise to a possible violation under the Fair Housing Act.”
The Fair Housing Act, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibits discrimination in the sale of or rental to persons based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. But not every group is covered.
“Meat-eaters are not a protected class under constitutional law, so they would not be able to raise a discrimination claim unless they could link to ‘disparate impact,’ meaning that landlords say they’re screening out meat-eaters but it’s actually a pretext for screening out people of color or a particular gender,” said Michele Hunter, a Seattle-based attorney who works on housing cases for Catholic Community Services.
As an example, she said, if a potential tenant could prove that Varia's vegetarian policy disproportionately favors renting to Buddhist women — and that he is consistently rejecting applications from qualified prospective male renters of other religions — someone could have a legal case on their hands.
Varia said he will stick to the honor code — he won’t sift through his renters’ trash to verify their diets. But he could be protected if he found a few chicken bones.
“Rental agreements often have clauses that allow landlords to invalidate a lease if it’s discovered that the tenant lied on an application, so I assume if the tenant has a pig roast, they could accuse the tenant of fraud on the rental application,” Hunter said.
Though she has never heard of a housing discrimination case based on diet preferences, Hunter said she has seen landlords provide preferential treatment to certain workers.
“The only other rental preference I’m aware of in our area is places that prefer certain employers over others, like U.W. or Amazon,” she said. “In those cases, there are two rental prices, but so far, they’re seen as legal.”
Varia believes his policy is imperative for environmental and health reasons.
“I really believe, just like the no-smoking policy that all landlords have today, that we can also promote this as a way to spread the awareness on vegetarian and veganism,” he told King 5.