Warning: Gun Owner, Don’t Sign That Apartment Lease Agreement Before Reading This
Firearm laws can be so complex and contradictory that gun owners unknowingly violate them and face harsh punishments. What if your state's law allowed, or didn't prohibit your landlord from evicting you from your apartment simply for possessing a firearm?
Conflicting and Confusing Gun Law:
Take, for instance, the New Jersey Magazine capacity law that turned thousands of New Jerseyans into felons overnight.
And whether you travel across the country by land or air, standby for ultra-confusing reciprocity agreements and a patchwork of local and state gun laws. All of this madness has turned otherwise law-abiding citizens into felons. Shaneen Allen's story is probably the most known and underscores the issue.
The best resource for keeping up with all the various state gun laws is the legal boundaries by state book. Check it out here.
Gun Owners and Apartment Leases:
Gun owners who live in apartments are particularly vulnerable to leases that may not only strip them of their civil right to own a firearm for self-defense but leave them with no place to live.
Imagine finding the perfect apartment in the neighborhood where you want your child to go to school. Maybe it's the most convenient for you to catch the bus to work. After you sign the lease, pay a deposit, set up utilities, and move in, your landlord sends you an eviction notice. Why? Because he found out you own a firearm.
Or, during your search for a place to live, your application is denied. You haven't committed a crime, have impeccable references and credit, store and use your guns responsibly. The justification for turning your family away is that your legally owned gun would interfere with other renters' peaceful enjoyment of their apartment.
Does the 1968 Fair Housing Act Protect Gun Owners?
Doesn't this seem like something that would be prohibited federally under the 1968 Fair Housing Act, which created a protected class, making it illegal to refuse someone housing based on characteristics like religion, race, or national origin?
Well, firearms owners are not a ‘protected class' listed in the 1968 Act. Legislators have tried but have not been able to pass a law that would include gun owners as a protected class at the state or federal level.
Doesn't the Heller Decision Matter?
Okay, but what about District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 US 570 (2008) and McDonald v. Chicago, 561 US 742 (2010)? Didn't these cases affirm that gun ownership and the right to own a gun inside the home for protection is a civil right protected by our Constitution?
Yes, but McDonald v. Chicago put restrictions on the state or federal government, not private property owners.
Landlord/Tenant Law Varies from State to State:
So that has put the authority in the state legislator's hands. And from that, we end up with laws covering the spectrum from prohibiting discrimination of legal gun owners to giving property owners the express right to deny legal gun owners from housing.
States in the middle that have basically not addressed the issue with written law have created an atmosphere where anything goes.
It is in these voids that lawsuits and appeals become the authority.
Case of Leyla Pirnie:
Let me give you an example of how this plays out in the real world. In 2018 the landlord of a Harvard Grad Student called Leyla Pirnie told her to vacate the home she rented with other Grad Students because her keeping a gun(s) in the house made them uncomfortable and was “anxiety-inducing.”
According to Pirnie, she purchased and trained with the handgun after being the victim of a recent domestic incident.
Pirnie did not announce that she owned any guns when she signed a rental agreement that did not expressly prohibit gun ownership. Nor did she let her roommates know about her guns.
According to Pirnie, and later confirmed by MA Police, she kept her firearms locked up per MA law.
It is important to note that while Massachusetts has some of the strictest gun laws, including mandatory storage laws, no law addresses landlord/tenant issues related to guns.
According to Pirnie, without permission and while she was away, her roommates searched her room to confirm their hunch that she owned a firearm.
Pirnie said she asked why they had searched her room, and one of them said:
We saw that you had a MAGA hat and, come on, you're from Alabama … so we just kind of assumed that you had something.
The roommates notified the manager, who instructed Pirnie she had to move. The management company presented various reasons, but ultimately Pirnie was told by the company that she had to leave home.
In February, Pirnie was still living in the apartment. The management company said that she would be responsible for paying for their rent if the other tenants moved out.
Leyla eventually left.
Here is a podcast interview with Leyla from the Not Your Average Gun Girls Podcast.
So the point is, know your state's landlord/tenant rights laws relating to firearms. For example, your apartment lease may not expressly prohibit firearm ownership. However, if your state allows the landlord to evict you because of your firearm, you'll be sent packing.
And suppose later down the road through litigation, courts determined the eviction violated your civil rights or state law. In that case, you're still out money, time, and heartache in pursuing a legal remedy and a new place to live.
And before you think I am going to leave you hanging like that, make sure you check out our Renter's Guide to Gun Ownership. It is an extensive compilation for any gun owner who rents and owns a firearm.
Wow, I was just wondering about this a day or two ago. Perfect timing!
Great article!! I’m moving to Maine and I don’t have anything to worry about,all these laws, too many to fathom. Maine is constitutional carry and have a 2nd amendment culture there Amen!
And also Massachusetts has strict gun laws because of the Kennedys period and they won’t change in the future no matter what guys!!
Please post the names and photos of the other roommates so that we’ll know who they are no matter what rock they hide under. It’s time they were “outed”.
Sorry Jack, as much as I disapprove of what they did we wouldn’t dox anyone. Truthfully I don’t know their names or if they had a change of heart since the incident.
I would have bought a snake tank and left a note on it saying if you find my my rattle snake call me leaving a fake number ,then released a load rats in the building and called the health department as a neighbor spotting rats at the property ,then pissed in the roomies underwear drawer