Congratulations on becoming a landlord in California! You’re well on your way to earning passive income for generations to come.
Being a California landlord, however, does come with a slew of responsibilities. One such responsibility is understanding the landlord-tenant laws. And key among these laws is the federal Fair Housing Act. The fair housing laws help prohibit discrimination based on a variety of criteria like national origin, familial status or sexual orientation.
California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Unruh Civil Rights Act are California’s main state fair housing laws for a housing provider.
According to the federal fair housing act, you have a responsibility to treat your California tenants equally without any form of bias, helping to prohibit discrimination in the housing market.
For instance, it’d be unlawful for you to screen prospective tenants using different qualifying criteria. Such as, running credit reports on Blacks and Hispanics and not doing the same for Whites. This is a violation of fair housing
Whether you’re just getting started or are looking to learn more, here’s everything you need to know about the California Fair Housing Act, compiled by Realevate Specialists.
What is the Fair Housing Act?
Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 60s, housing discrimination was rampant. Then, it was quite commonplace for landlords to turn away prospective tenants due to their sex, color, national origin, familial status, race, and other characteristics. Now, we’re trying to prohibit discrimination based on these criteria.
But that changed after two crucial pieces of legislation were passed: the Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, the real groundbreaking legislation came a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.
President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law on April 11, 1968. The 1968 Fair Housing Act was a truly landmark piece of legislation that sought to address housing discrimination on the basis of race, skin color, sex, familial status, and religion.
The statute has been amended multiple times since fair housing was passed into law in law to include even more protected characteristics.
What are the protected characteristics in California?
Both the Fair Housing Employment and Housing Act and the Unruh Act prohibit discrimination in housing based on the following characteristics:
- Familial Status
- National Origin
- Sexual Orientation
- Primary Language
- Marital Status
- Immigration Status
- Genetic Information
- Gender Identity and Gender Expression
- Source of Income
- Veteran Status
How can Landlords Prevent Housing Discrimination?
Under California state law, at the very least, you must treat your tenants fairly and equally to adhere to fair housing laws. This is particularly crucial when it comes to marketing and screening prospective tenants as trying to prohibit discrimination on the basis of criteria like familial status or religion.
When marketing your vacant unit to prospective tenants, you’ll want to create an ad copy that doesn’t infringe on the Fair Housing Act by including certain statements.
Statements to steer clear of in your rental ad include:
- “Adult Building”
- “Suitable for students or working folks”
- “Ideal for a quiet couple”
- “Suitable for a single professional”
And when it comes to screening, you’ll want to ensure the process is bias-free and adheres to fair housing laws.
The following are illegal questions you must refrain from asking prospective tenants:
- Is that a service pet?
- How many children do you have?
- Where are your parents originally from?
- Are you married?
- Are you a member of the LGBTQ+ community?
- What is your national origin?
To be on the safe side, focus on describing the California property’s features rather than the qualities of your ideal tenant.
Under California state law, it’s illegal for housing providers or landlords to take any of the following actions based on a protected characteristic:
- Refusing to rent to a person based on a protected characteristic like national origin or race
- Providing different terms, conditions, and privileges, such as security deposit amounts
- Falsely denying that a rental unit is unavailable
- Attempting or restricting a person’s housing choices
- Refusing to make a reasonable accommodation to the unit for a disabled tenant
- Threatening or harassing someone for exercising their right, such as when they report you for discriminating against them
What types of housing are covered by the California Fair Housing Act?
California State Fair Housing laws cover most housing. While the federal law on fair housing provides for certain exemptions, those don’t apply in California. The only exceptions applicable in California include owner-occupied single-family homes, where the owner doesn’t rent to more than one tenant.
Another exemption is for housing operated by private clubs and religious organizations.
Do disabled people have special protections in California?
Yes, they do. For one, you cannot refuse to rent to a disabled prospective California tenant on the basis of their physical or mental disability. Two, housing providers cannot refuse to allow a disabled person to make reasonable modifications to their premises at their own expense.
Examples of modifications they may need to do include:
- Installing a ramp to allow their wheelchair to access a raised living room.
- Modifying kitchen appliances to help accommodate blindness or poor vision.
- Installing door handles or special faucets due to limited hand use.
- Lowering countertops to allow for easier wheelchair access.
- Widening a doorway.
- Installing visual-alerting fire alarms and doorbells.
Of course, the California tenant must seek your permission prior to making such modifications to your rental premises. Furthermore, you have a right to require that the modifications be done by a professional and evidence of the necessary building permits.
And three, you cannot refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices, or services for a disabled tenant or it can be considered a breach of fair housing laws.
Examples of reasonable accommodations in housing include:
- Placing a mailbox in an accessible location.
- Allowing a tenant to have a live-in aide.
- Allowing a tenant to move to an available, more accessible unit.
- Assigning a parking space for a person with limited mobility.
- Allowing a service animal even when you don’t accept pets into your property.
Who Enforces the California Fair Housing Laws?
The government agency responsible for enforcing the state Fair Housing Act is the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing for California residents. Besides preventing housing discrimination, Department of Fair Employment also protects residents from unlawful discrimination in employment, businesses, and state-funded programs.
Are there Penalties for Violating the Fair Housing Act?
If found guilty, you may be liable for a tidy sum. First and foremost, your California tenant may be awarded out-of-pocket costs they incurred while seeking alternative housing. Two, you may be liable for causing non-economic damages for embarrassing and humiliating the tenant.
Historically, civil penalties can cost you anywhere from $16,000 to $150,000 depending on the severity of the case.
The Bottom Line: Fair Housing Laws in California
The state of California takes an active stance against housing discrimination by adding additional protected characteristics to the list outlined by the federal Fair Housing Act in order to protect California residents from housing discrimination. As a landlord in California, you want to ensure you are compliant with the state Fair Housing Laws to avoid getting into legal trouble by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
For more information or assistance with the Fair Housing Laws or housing discrimination, contact the talented team at Realevate Specialists today! We offer many services for property owners.
Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for professional legal advice. California Federal Fair Housing Laws change and this post about fair housing laws might not be updated at the time you read it. For expert help with any laws, consider hiring a qualified attorney or an experienced property management company that can offer services in California.
We are pledged to the letter and spirit of U.S. policy for the achievement of equal housing opportunity throughout the Nation. See Equal Housing Opportunity Statement for more information.