California state law prohibits housing discrimination based on a long list of factors. including ancestry, national origin, mental or physical disability, familial status (children), gender identity and gender expression, genetic information, marital status, military and veteran status, primary language, race, color, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation and source of income. The Unruh Civil Rights Act, which covers most housing accommodations in California, goes further. It also prohibits housing discrimination based on citizenship, immigration status and primary language.
How Cities Can Help
Cities and counties can extend prohibitions against housing discrimination. In Los Angeles County, factors include age, student status, arbitrary reasons, age and physical disability, which includes HIV and AIDS. In San Francisco, a landlord, seller or lender may not take adverse action based on the tenant's one or more protected classes. Protected classes include many of the state factors listed above, as well as creed (aspects of religious beliefs that guide someone’s actions), AIDS/HIV status, place of birth and weight.
Definition of Housing Discrimination
Housing discrimination is a negative action against a tenant or potential renter. These actions include refusal to rent or sell; retaliatory eviction; failure to accommodate a tenant's disabilities; changes in terms, conditions and privileges; harassment; refusal of services, repairs, facilities and improvements; discriminatory financing terms; and false representation of availability. Housing discrimination can also include offering housing in substandard conditions, refusing to accept a party because he gets a housing subsidy such as a Section 8 rent voucher, and subjecting a party to foreclosure rescue and mortgage modification scams.
Housing for Seniors
Housing that is designed to meet the physical and/or social needs of senior citizens 55 or older is exempt from the law. For example, senior housing can legally exclude households with children. The Unruh Civil Rights Act was amended in 2000 to implement the rules for senior housing for tenancies beginning November 1, 2001.
Remedies for Relief
In San Francisco, a party should notice the violation to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, complete an intake questionnaire and schedule an intake appointment. In Los Angeles, he should make a complaint to the Southern California Housing Rights Center. On a state level, a party can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
A party may also want to consider initiating legal action. She may be able to recover out-of-pocket losses, damages for emotional distress, civil penalties, punitive damages and attorney’s fees. She may also be able to obtain an injunction, which is a court order prohibiting the unlawful practice. The party may also be eligible to get access to housing that the landlord denied.
Handling Housing Discrimination
Someone who is experiencing housing discrimination should keep a record of meetings, phone calls, emails, texts and other evidence of prohibited actions. Important items may include receipts, applications, business cards, advertisements for housing and documents received during a meeting with a seller, landlord or lender. He should keep track of interactions with numerous parties, including a landlord, property manager, real estate agent, loan officer and insurance agent. Notes should include a person’s name, title, the meeting place, date, time and information about who was present at the scene of the interactions. For example, if a party took a child to a meeting with a potential landlord, and the landlord made derogatory statements to the child or about the child, this could be evidence of housing discrimination based on familial status.
There are many cases of landlords failing to comply with state laws and local ordinances regarding housing discrimination. A party who thinks she experienced housing discrimination should consider talking to her city, the state and an attorney to determine whether she is part of a larger class of people who have been discriminated against. This may allow her to join a class action or strengthen her argument against the opposing party.
- City and County of San Francisco Human Rights Commission: How to File a Complaint of Discrimination in Housing
- Los Angeles Housing & Community Investment Department: Fair Housing
- City of Fresno, Planning and Development: Fair Housing
- Legal Beagle: Tenant Screening: A Legal Guide for California Landlords
- Legal Beagle: California Tenant Rights: Overview of Laws & Protections
- Legal Beagle: Landlord Retaliation in California: Rent Increases & Evictions
- Legal Beagle: Illegal Landlord Actions in California: What Tenants Can Do
- Legal Beagle: Landlord Repair Responsibilities in California: Tenant Rights
- Legal Beagle: California Landlord Responsibilities for Tenant Safety
Jessica Zimmer is a journalist and attorney based in northern California. She has practiced in a wide variety of fields, including criminal defense, property law, immigration, employment law, and family law.