As a general rule in professional rental car situations, discriminating against an otherwise qualified car rental applicant based on the applicant’s age is unlawful. This brand of discrimination is legally termed “age discrimination,” and broadly encompasses any practice of treating another unfairly, in any field of commerce, because of her age or the age of any of her associates. Accordingly, car rental companies and dealers are typically prohibited from engaging in age-based discriminatory practices in these representative circumstances:
- Denying requests to negotiate;
- Misrepresenting the relevant facts, i.e., that a vehicle is unavailable for rental;
- Providing rental under substandard terms and conditions;
- Cancelling a previously entered agreement for rental; and
- Refusing to consider objectively reasonable modifications or accommodations necessary to enable an applicant with an age-associated medical or health condition the opportunity to rent.
However, car rental situations are also replete with significant exceptions to this general legal ban on age discrimination, perhaps more so in any other sphere of rental-based consumerism. Indeed, because of the underlying public safety and welfare issues and concerns implicated by car operation, companies and dealers in this rental commodity are entitled particular leeway and deference under the law in establishing even blanket age restrictions on who is or is not authorized to rent a car, and under what terms and conditions.
Most notably, the vast majority of car rental resources require that applicants be at a minimum 25 years of age as an absolute condition for access to their renting services. Of the several that permit rental by 21-year-old drivers, many impose a daily surcharge on those under 25. Numerous others place restrictions on the kinds or brands of cars available for rent to this age group. The overarching consensus is that this particular manifestation of age-based rental qualification does not amount to age discrimination because it is objectively reasonable in light of the totality of circumstances. In particular, the well-documented heightened occurence of car accidents associated with drivers 25 and below is most commonly cited as valid and sufficient legal justification.