Housing Discrimination

Be a Wary Tenant: Four Signs of Housing Discrimination

It took awhile, but you finally found a clean and spacious one-bedroom apartment in the Mission that you can afford.  According to the property management’s website, the rental unit is available. However, when you call for a viewing, you get an odd response.

The property manager seems friendly until you provide an ethnic surname.  The caller begins to hedge and suddenly claims the apartment is rented. One week later, however, you see that the listing is still active, and when you ask a friend with a non-ethnic surname to inquire about the unit, that friend is immediately told the apartment is available and offered a viewing.  Your suspicions were correct: you were denied housing on the basis of your race and/or country of origin.

The Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) protects tenants from the unlawful practices of landlords by broadly prohibiting housing discrimination in the seeking, obtaining, and holding of housing based on a person’s protected class, including but not limited to race, color, religion, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, disability, genetic information, medical condition, citizenship, primary language, and/or immigration status.  Cal. Gov. Code § 12921(b), (d). Discriminatory housing practices made unlawful by the FEHA include, among other things, the refusal to sell, rent, or lease; refusal to negotiate for a sale, rental, or lease; representation that housing is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when it is in fact so available; any other denial or withholding of housing accommodations; provision of inferior housing terms, conditions, privileges, facilities, or services; harassment in connection with housing accommodations; cancellation or termination of a sale or rental agreement; refusal to permit, at a disabled person’s expense, reasonable modifications of the premises that are necessary to afford the disabled person “full enjoyment of the premises”; and refusal to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services when necessary to afford a disabled person “equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.”  Id. § 12927(c)(1).  In a FEHA civil suit, if the court finds a discriminatory housing practice has occurred or is about to occur, it may award plaintiff actual and punitive damages; and “other relief . . . as it deems appropriate to prevent any defendant from engaging in or continuing to engage in an unlawful practice.”  Id.§ 12989.2.  The court may also, in its discretion, award the prevailing party reasonable attorney fees and costs, including expert witness fees.  Id.

Despite the law, landlords and property managers continue to discriminate.  Here are four signs to look out for.

  1. “We Aren’t Set Up For Children.”

Although children may legally be excluded from housing for senior citizens, FEHA otherwise prohibits discrimination on the basis of familial status.  Other signs of familial status discrimination include posting advertisements that state “No children,” limiting the number of children allowed in a rental unit or confining children to certain floors or sections of the building.

  1. “You Have an Emotional Support Animal?  Unfortunately, We Have a No Pets Policy.”

Excluding a tenant from a rental unit because the tenant has an emotional support animal constitutes discrimination on the basis of disability.  It is also illegal to charge tenants a higher rent or request an additional deposit because they have an emotional support animal or service animal.  Other examples of discrimination on the basis of disability include refusing to rent to a person in a wheelchair accompanied by comments such as, “We’re worried about the chair damaging the unit” or “This isn’t the building for you. There are no ramps or elevators.”

  1. “You Might Be More Comfortable on X Street.”

If you visit an apartment you like but are told you should really be looking in areas where there are more individuals of your ethnic background, this may constitute discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, citizenship, primary language, and/or immigration status.

  1. “Are You Married?”

Although many Bay Area couples are eschewing marriage, some landlords and property managers may still have issues renting to unmarried couples.  However, doing it constitutes discrimination on the basis of marital status and is a violation of FEHA.

Securing safe and comfortable housing is a basic human right, and if a landlord or property manager denies you this right because you belong to a particular protected class, you may have legal recourse.  For advice regarding your situation, contact Tenant Law Group, PC.  We are committed to protecting the rights of all Bay Area tenants and can help if you become a victim of housing discrimination.