CALIFORNIA LANDLORDS – Chapter 1, Discrimination

 

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As you read this article keep in mind that it was written for the owners of property located in the State of California.  This is critically important because the state statutes, case law, and public policies can vary widely from state to state, moreover, there is also a layer of federal law which applies in every state and territory.

Introduction

For a whole host of reasons, the number of absentee owners of residential property (i.e. attached and detached single family dwellings) is increasing.  The first indications of this shift became noticeable to real estate professionals when tracts of town homes began losing their FHA qualification because the percentage of non-owner occupied units were exceeding the acceptable maximums.

Many of these absentee owners have decided to manage their own properties, sometimes with regrettable results.  This serialized blog discusses some the potentially serious issues faced by an inexperienced owner.

Unlawful Discrimination

The California Government Code expresses the state legislature’s public policy position that the opportunity to search for, locate and hold housing without being subjected to unlawful discrimination is a civil right.  Exactly what constitutes unlawful discrimination in California is laid out in California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Civil Rights Act as those laws have been interpreted by the courts.

While all of us are aware and agree that it is unlawful for a landlord to discriminate against a person on the basis of the person’s race, color, religion, sex, some of you probably aren’t aware that these characteristics also include pregnancy, childbirth, and/or medical conditions related to them.  Gender, perception of gender, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, and/or disability also need to be added to the list.  Moreover, the list includes a “perception” of all of the above and/or a perception that a person is associated with another person who may have any of these characteristics.

Confused?  We aren’t surprised, most people are at this point.  A simplistic way to look at the issue is to isolate two separate factors: First, the reasons (basis) for discriminating which are held to be unlawful.  These reasons have been pretty much summarized in the preceding paragraph.  And, second, the acts which constitute discrimination when based upon the unlawful reasons.

Discrimination can occur in any of the following ways:

  1. Refusing to sell, rent or lease.
  2. Refusing to negotiate for a sale, rental or lease.
  3. Representing that housing is not available for inspeciton, sale, or rental when it is, in fact, available.
  4. Otherwise denying or withholding housing accommodations.
  5. Providing inferior housing terms, conditions, privileges, facilities or services.
  6. Harassing a person in connection with housing accomodations.
  7. Canceling or terminating a sale or rental agreement.
  8. Providing segregated or separated housing accommodations.
  9. Refusing to permit a person with a disability to make reasonable modifications to a rental property, at their own cost, which are needed to allow the person to fully enjoy the use of the premises.
  10. Refusing to allow a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.  An example might be a landlord who refuses to allow a companion or service dog on the premises.

An example of how all of this comes into play might be the misguided (albeit well-intentioned) landlord who uses an income standard for unmarried individuals living together that is different from the income standard used for married couples, or vice versa, and then refusing to lease to either couple based on this dual standard.  The problem isn’t so much the income standard as it is the discrimination based on marital status.

In California, a landlord cannot inquire as to the immigration status of the prospective tenant, or require the tenant to declare his citizenship status.  Landlords cannot discriminate against families with children under 18, by refusing to rent to them, (note there is an exception for senior housing) and cannot place restrictions specifically on the number of children, unless the same restriction would also apply to adults.  Lastly, landlords can’t use advertisements which contain discriminatory limitations.

Some exceptions to the above rules are provided for persons in a single-family dwelling who is advertising for a roommate.

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DISCLAIMER

This article is intended to be a general discussion only, and should not be considered legal or real estate advice. Your use of it does not create either an attorney-client or broker-client relationship. Any liability that might arise from your use or reliance on this article, or any of its links, is expressly disclaimed. This blog is not legal, real estate, loan, accounting or tax advice, and is not to be acted on as such, it was outdated the moment it was written, and is subject to change without notice.  If you are dealing with a potential problem with your investment property you are advised to retain the appropriate licensed professional.