Q: I live in a 12-unit apartment complex. Five of the units are occupied by the owner’s employees. The rest are regular tenants like me. But the employee-tenants have special privileges, like access to the laundry room, keeping a pet, parking in the inside lot, and the right to mount satellite dishes. Is this legal? –Nancy V.
A: With one exception, your landlord’s policies towards the favored few are probably legal, although annoying. The fact that the lucky ones are employees of the owner is irrelevant to our answer — what you’re dealing with here is simply a group of tenants who have a better deal than the rest of you.
Before we get to that exception, let’s be sure that your lease didn’t promise you the very things that you don’t have. If the lease referred to use of the laundry room, or if it was part of the tour you got before moving in, that implicitly made use of the facility part of the deal. Ditto for parking — if the lease mentioned use of the lot, or you had use of it from the outset until you were told to stop, you can argue that it, too, was included in the rent. Similarly, if you don’t have a "no pets" clause in your lease, you are free to have a reasonable pet.
In sum, if you can point to a right to launder, park, and keep a pet either in the lease or implicitly given to you by example or acquiescence, you may have good grounds for arguing that you should continue to enjoy these rights and amenities until the lease ends.
Assuming that you never had the perks that the company tenants enjoy, can you argue that this deprivation is illegal? I don’t think so. Being a "non-company tenant" doesn’t entitle you to equal treatment under the fair housing laws, as it would if, for example, management withdrew or never offered these perks to members of a religion or ethnicity. In other words, if the owner gives his employees a particularly nice place to live, and doesn’t extend the same features to you, you’re being treated differently, but it’s not against the law.
Now to that exception. Federal law prohibits landlords from unreasonably interfering with their tenants’ rights to receive over-the-air reception of satellite signals. Landlords simply cannot impose a blanket ban on all satellite dishes proposed by any tenant, for aesthetic or any other reason (they can insist on safe installation procedures, and structures that have National Historic status may limit them). This feature of your owner’s scheme is against federal law, and you can confidently point this out to the owner (for chapter and verse, send him to the Federal Communications Commission’s Fact Sheet). …CONTINUED