The city will research whether students should become a protected class under the city's Fair Housing ordinance.
Students have said they are often denied the chance to rent housing because they are students. Some advertisements for rentals even state that students need not apply, they said.
The City Council voted Tuesday to have the Housing and Human Services Commission examine the issue.
Students are not a protected class under city or federal laws banning housing discrimination. They could be classified as a protected class under city law, which would prevent landlords from discriminating against them, or receive some other type of less formal protection.
"I'm not sure they need to be a protected class, but we don't want them to be a rejected class," Councilor Dennis Slattery said.
Slattery said he wants the commission to take input from students as well as property owners and managers to find a solution amenable to both sides.
Councilor Pam Marsh said she wants commissioners to research several issues, including why landlords reject students and what students can do to increase their desirability as tenants.
Rental property owner Kathie Kennedy said it would be extreme to add students as a protected class to the city's Fair Housing ordinance.
She said landlords follow federal laws governing housing discrimination.
Often landlords compare the finances of students with the finances of prospective tenants who have earned incomes, Kennedy said.
At a March 18 council meeting, several students spoke about housing discrimination.
Student Josh Barber said he is a responsible adult, but students are often denied the chance to rent off-campus housing.
In a survey of 200 Southern Oregon University students, 147 said they had experienced housing discrimination. Some had to pay extra deposits because they were students, while others were told they couldn't qualify for housing because they were students, among other findings of the survey, said Andrew Ensslin, the SOU student liaison to the Ashland Housing and Human Services Commission.
Even students with good rental histories and those in their 30s and 40s are being denied housing, said SOU senior Kristi Wright, communications director for the Associated Students of SOU and manager of the Fair Housing Campaign.
SOU Student Body President Thomas Letchworth said he hopes the city will end what he sees as blatant discrimination against students that is currently legal.