Frequently Asked Questions - FAQs
We will be adding to these FAQ's over time and as you send us questions! Select a topic below (if highlighted) to go to that section of questions.
- Breaking the Lease/Moving Out
- Housing Discrimination
- Rent Increases
- Security Deposits
- Questions about rent control/just cause evictions? (check out the jurisdictions with those local laws.
- National Contacts (list of fair housing and legal services agencies from across the country)
- Want to know more about what we do?
How much advance notice must my landlord give me if he wants me to move out of my rental unit?
Effective, January 1, 2003, rental property owners will be required to provide a 60-day advance notice to a resident if the landlord elects to terminate a tenancy and the resident has lived in the unit for one year or longer. (Civil Code Section 1946.1) If the resident has lived in the unit for less than one year, the owner must provide at least 30-days advanced notice before terminating the tenancy.
In rent control areas, a landlord may be limited to certain reasons for requesting a tenant to vacate the premises. For example in the Cities of Berkeley and Oakland, there are set legal reasons to request that a tenant to vacate a unit. Two of them are failure to pay rent and using a rental unit for any illegal purpose.
Is my landlord obligated to pay relocation fees if I receive a notice to end tenancy?
A landlord is required to pay relocation fees if the building falls under rent control in areas such as the Cities of Berkeley, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and West Hollywood. There are certain conditions under which a landlord in these areas is required to pay relocation assistance. Check of the law for the City you live in. Rent control jurisdictions can be found on the “What ARE my housing rights?” page.
There are other circumstances under which a landlord may be required to pay relocation such as when government funding is used to purchase or renovate a residential building or a housing unit has been condemned. These laws are complicated and we encourage you to call a fair housing or legal services agency near you to find our what your rights are in this area.
How do I know if I have been a victim of housing discrimination?
Unlawful housing discrimination can take a variety of forms. Under California's Fair Employment and Housing Act, it is unlawful for a landlord, managing agent, real estate broker, or salesperson to discriminate against any person because of the person's race, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, or physical or mental disability. Basically, if you are being denied housing because of your personal characteristics you may be a victim of housing discrimination!
What is the Fair Housing Act?
The Fair Housing Act provides protection against the following discriminatory housing practices if they are based on race, sex, religion, color, handicap, familial status or national origin:
- Denying or refusing to rent housing
- Denying or refusing to sell housing
- Treating applicants differently for housing
- Treating residents differently in connection with terms and conditions
- Advertising a discriminatory housing preference or limitations
- Providing false information about the availability of housing
- Harassing, coercing or intimidating people from enjoying or exercising their rights under the act
- “Blockbusting” for profit or persuading owners to sell or rent housing by telling them that people of a particular race, religion, etc. are moving into the area or neighborhood.
- Imposing different terms for loans for purchasing, constructing, improving, repairing, or maintaining a home, or loans secured by housing
- Denying use of or participation in real estate services, e.g., brokers’ organizations, multiple listing services, etc.
Your housing rights are protected under federal law, and may be further covered by state and local laws and regulations. Because the laws for every state and community vary, this document focuses only on the federal law that applies to everyone in the United States. For information on fair housing laws and regulations in your area, contact your local human rights or fair housing advocacy organization. Locate resources in your area.
What federal laws cover fair housing
Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, as amended in 1988 (42 U.S.C. §3601 et seq.), also known as the Fair Housing Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1866 (Title 42 of the United States Code sections 1981 and 1982) both prohibit discrimination in a wide array of real estate practices, including housing sale and rental, provision of homeowner's insurance and mortgage lending.
Who is protected by the fair housing laws?
The Fair Housing Act identifies seven classes protected by the law: race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status and disability. State and local laws often extend these protected classes to include such characteristics as sexual preference, age and even student status. Check with your local fair housing or human rights advocacy organization to find out what classes are locally protected in your area.
Some notes on the protected classes:
Sexual discrimination includes sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as deliberate or repeated unsolicited verbal comments, gestures, or physical contact that creates an offensive environment, or when sexual favors are sought in return for housing.
With regard to familial status, families are defined as at least one child under the age of eighteen living with at least one parent or appointed guardian. It also includes pregnant women and those in the adoption process.
The Fair Housing Act defines "handicap" (or disability) as:
- a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of such person's major life activities,
- a record of having such an impairment, or
- being regarded as having such an impairment, but such term does not include current, illegal use of or addiction to a controlled substance.
What does the Fair Housing Act protect against?
The Fair Housing Act states a number of illegal practices, including:
- 3604(a) Refusals to sell or rent
"To refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any person because of.." membership in a protected class.
- 3604(b) Discrimination in terms, conditions or privileges of sale
"To discriminate against any person in the terms, conditions, or privileges of sale or rental of a dwelling, or in the provision of services or facilities in connection therewith, because of.." membership in a protected class.
This type of discrimination is more subtle than outright refusal to rent or sell. For instance, an apartment manager might require a higher security deposit from families with children than those without, or demand an extraordinarily high application fee from minority applicants. Such different treatment is every bit as illegal as a more blatant outright refusal to rent or sell.
- 3604(c) Advertising
"To make, print, or publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement, or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on.." membership in a protected class.
- 3604(d) Denying availability
"To represent to any person because of..." membership in a protected class "..that any dwelling is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when such dwelling is in fact so available."
A real estate agent, apartment manager, etc. may not falsely claim a lack of available properties or units to prospective tenants based on their membership in a protected class.
- 3604(e) Blockbusting and Steering
"For profit, to induce or attempt to induce any person to sell or rent any dwelling by representations regarding the entry or prospective entry into the neighborhood of a person or persons of a particular..." protected class.
Blockbusting is an effort to induce panic in a neighborhood by telling white homeowners that other whites are leaving the area and that minorities are moving in, with the goal of getting white homeowners to sell their homes at unusually low prices.
Steering is a practice whereby a real estate agent makes a practice of showing white clients homes in predominantly white neighborhoods and minority clients homes in predominantly non-white neighborhoods.
- 3604(f) Failure to make reasonable accommodation
Refusal to make 'reasonable modifications' to the premises of a dwelling, or the rules, policies, practices or services of a dwelling if such modifications are necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling. What constitutes a reasonable accommodation is an involved issue covered in detail in the Fair Housing and Disability FAQ.
- 3605 Lending discrimination and 'redlining'
Discrimination in making loans for the purpose of real-estate transactions is illegal. 'Real-estate transactions' includes purchasing, constructing, improving, repairing or maintaining a dwelling.
Redlining is a term derived from the practice of loan officers who would evaluate home mortgage applications by relying on a residential map where integrated and minority neighborhoods were marked off in red as poor risk areas. It is the practice of denying loan applications based on the neighborhood of the home in question.
Other prohibited practices
While the above mentioned practices are specifically prohibited by the Fair Housing Act, it is important to note that the broad language of section 3604(a): "..or otherwise make unavailable or deny a dwelling to any person because of..[membership in a protected class]" provides consumers with blanket implied protection against all other discriminatory practices.
An excellent example is insurance discrimination. While insurance discrimination is not specifically covered in the act, redlining by insurers is a significant barrier to equal opportunity in housing. Many lawsuits have been filed against insurance agencies based on the provisions of the Act.
What housing is covered by the Fair Housing Act?
Section 3603 outlines the housing covered by the Fair Housing Act. It defines a "dwelling" as:
(b) "Dwelling" means any building, structure, or portion thereof which is occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one or more families, and any vacant land which is offered for sale or lease for the construction or location thereon of any such building, structure, or portion thereof.
This definition applies to both publicly and privately owned dwellings.
Section 3603 specifies four circumstances in which a dwelling is exempt from the Fair Housing Act:
1) Any single-family house sold or rented by an owner, with the following conditions:
- The owner cannot own in whole or in part any title or right to more than three single family houses at any one time;
- If the owner was not the previous occupant of the dwelling being sold, the owner may not make another such sale exempt from the Fair Housing Act for 24 months;
- The sale of the dwelling can in no way involve the services or facilities of any real estate broker, agent or salesman;
- The seller cannot use any discriminatory advertising to assist the sale or rental of the dwelling.
2) Rooms or units in an owner occupied dwelling that houses no more than four families living independent of each other.
Section 3607 specifies two additional exemptions to the provisions of the act:
- Religious organizations can show preference to members of the same religion when offering non-commercial (free), temporary housing. Private clubs may show preference to club members under similar circumstances.
- "Housing for older persons" is exempt only from the
statutory provisions that prohibit discrimination against families
with children. Housing for older persons is defined as housing:
- provided under any State or Federal program that the Secretary determines is specifically designed and operated to assist elderly persons (as defined in the State or Federal program); or
- intended for, and solely occupied by, persons 62 years of age or older; or
- intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years
of age or older. In order to qualify as housing for older
persons under this subsection, the following requirements
must be met:
- at least 80 percent of the units must be occupied by at least one person 55 years of age or older;
- the housing community must publish and adhere to policies and procedures that demonstrate an intent to provide housing for persons 55 years of age or older; and
- the housing community must comply with rules issued by the Secretary of HUD for the verification of occupancy.
What housing is covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1866?
The provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1866 are extremely broad. Section 1981 protects the right of all persons to make and enforce contracts free from racial discrimination. Section 1982 protects the rights of citizens to inherit, purchase, lease, sell, hold and convey real and personal property. The act only covers racial discrimination, however, and section 1982 only protects United States Citizens.
What type of activities might indicate discrimination in Rental Housing?
A landlord can set any qualification standards for the rental of their apartment that they choose. Examples include but are not limited to: how much income you make, whether they do a credit check and the quality of your credit record, contacting your previous and current landlord for references, and checking to see if you have a criminal background. These standards are perfectly legal—as long as they are applied to every applicant for rental. The following activities, however, could indicate discriminatory treatment:
- Misrepresenting the availability of housing.
- Steering or segregating housing by a protected class (for example: the buildings in the complex are racially segregated; they have a policy that “children are only allowed in building C,” or that “children are required to live on the first floor.”)
- Requiring different terms or conditions for rental occupancy.
- The information told to you in person does not match the information told to you on the phone.
- The landlord takes an application from you and promises to call but never does.
- The sign says “vacancy,” but the landlord says it was just rented.
- There is nothing available now, or there won’t be when you need to move.
- The landlord imposes burdensome conditions for rental occupancy.
- The landlord keeps using various delaying tactics.
- The complex has overly restrictive occupancy standards and age limits (for example: requiring less than 2 people in a bedroom or allowing no one under the age of 18 to live there).
- The landlord has rules about adults sharing a bedroom with a child or male and female children sharing a bedroom.
- The landlord claims the property is unsafe for children.
- The landlord will not allow guide or support animals.
- The landlord will not make a reasonable accommodation.
- The landlord will not allow you to make reasonable modifications to the premises.
What type of activities might indicate discrimination in Real Estate Sales?
- The Realtor refuses to show a property in a particular neighborhood or discourages you from considering that neighborhood because of the “character” of that neighborhood.
- The Realtor requires you to be pre-qualified before discussing any properties with you, but you believe they don’t require this of everyone.
- The Realtor gives you listings of properties in “select” neighborhoods that appear to be chosen because of their racial makeup (i.e. steering).
- The Realtor encourages or discourages sales or purchases in a particular neighborhood because of the changing racial makeup of that neighborhood (i.e. blockbusting).
- Problems or special requirements from townhouse, condominium, or manufactured housing communities regarding your children.
- Problems or special requirements from townhouse, condominium, or manufactured housing communities regarding special needs you have because of a disability.
What type of activities might indicate discrimination in Home Mortgage Loans?
- You believe you are qualified for a conventional mortgage but the agent insists that an FHA loan is better.
- The interest rate and points offered are much higher than current average.
- The agent will not count income from sources other than your employment.
- You have difficulty getting access to an agent.
- The agent won’t return your phone calls and it is difficult to get information about the status of your application.
- The agent is very discouraging or gives negative comments about your ability to qualify even though you believe you are qualified.
- The mortgage company has a policy that eliminates your new home from a mortgage at that institution (for example: “We don’t give loans under $50,000”).
What type of activities might indicate discrimination when applying for Insurance?
- Policies by the insurance company that eliminate your house or apartment from being insured by that company (for example: “We don’t write policies in that neighborhood,” “We don’t write policies for flat roofs,” “We don’t write policies for properties worth less than $50,000,” “Your property doesn’t fit our profile,” etc.)
- One insurance company’s quote is significantly different from others
- The insurer will only offer you a market rate policy and not a replacement cost policy
What type of activities might indicate discrimination in reference to your property appraisal report?
- The properties chosen to compare your property to are not in similar neighborhoods.
- The appraisal report has not taken into consideration positive economic changes in your neighborhood (for example: the presence of new construction or new investments planned for your neighborhood that might have the effect of increasing the value of your property).
- The appraisal report lists negative comments about your neighborhood that could be interpreted as having racial connotations.
What other types of activities are covered under fair housing laws?
- Advertising: Fair housing laws state that it is unlawful to “…make, print, publish, or cause to be made, printed, or published any notice, statement or advertisement, with respect to the sale or rental of a dwelling that indicates any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on one of the protected classes.” Ads that say “no children,” “adults only,” “Catholic church nearby,” “male or female preferred” are examples of illegal ads.
- Harassment: It is unlawful to threaten or intimidate persons in a protected class or any individual who is supporting these persons in pursuit of their rights.
What if your rights have been violated?
- You should contact the fair housing agency near you.
- You may file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) by mail or phone: (800) 669-9777 within one year of the discriminatory incident.
- You may hire a private attorney and file an action in federal court within two years of the discriminatory incident. Housing Rights, Inc. may be able to help you find an attorney if you live in Alameda or Contra Costa Counties.
- If you are able to prove that you have been a victim of discrimination you may be entitled to receive compensation for actual damages, including humiliation, pain and suffering, and other relief. In federal court you may also receive punitive damages. If you are successful, the person who discriminated against you must pay your attorney’s fees.
What is arbitrary discrimination?
It is discrimination based on class distinctions which cannot be justified and are not rationally based. Source of income, sexual preference, marital status are examples of such class distinctions.
How does the Fair Housing Act protect people with disabilities?
- The Act provides protection for discriminatory housing practices if they are based on a disability. A disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities. Individuals who have a record of an impairment or have been regarded as having such an impairment are also covered. Impairments include mental illness, AIDS, blindness, hearing impairment, mental retardation, mobility impairment, etc.
What special types of issues are related to persons with disabilities?
Under the law, a disability is defined as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more of a person’s major life activities. This includes wheelchair users, those who are visually impaired, those limited by emotional problems, mental illness or retardation, alcoholism and difficulties associated with aging. It also includes those suffering from HIV/AIDS. It does not apply to current illegal use of, or addiction to illegal drugs.
For persons with disabilities, there are two terms that you should know. The first term is reasonable accommodation. A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules, policies or practices so that a person with a disability can enjoy the property in the same way as everyone else. For example, the landlord, condominium association or township should allow a handicapped parking space for a person with a disability even though everyone else must park on a first come first served basis; or a landlord should allow a person with a visual impairment to have a guide dog even though they have a “no pets” policy. If you need something special because of your particular disability in order to reside in a residence and there is a reasonable solution then you should make a request for a “reasonable accommodation.”
The second term is reasonable modification. A reasonable modification is a change in the physical premises, for example, the installation of a ramp to your front door or the installation of grab bars in the bathroom. In this case you, as the tenant, must pay for the changes, but the landlord or condominium association must allow those changes, as long as they are reasonable.
My landlord/condo board won't give me a disability parking space. Can I file a complaint?
Yes, you may file a complaint. In order to win, you must have a disability which is related to your need for the handicapped space. This will be decided on a case by case basis.
What is rent control?
Rent control ordinances limit or prohibit rent increases and notices to vacate tenancy. Some California cities have local ordinances but each community's ordinance is different. Iin the City of Berkeley, rent increases are limited to a certain percentage each year. Also, some rent control ordinances only allow landlords to evict tenants for "just cause." This means, the landlord must state and provide a valid reason for terminating a month-to-month tenancy. In California, the cities that have rent control are the City of Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Berkeley, Campbell, East Palo Alto, Fremont, Hayward, Los Gatos, Oakland, Palm Springs, San Francisco, San Jose and Thousand Oaks.
When can my landlord enter my rental unit?
California laws states (5) reasons a landlord is able to enter your unit.
- In an emergency.
- When the tenant has moved out or has abandoned the rental unit.
- To make necessary or agreed-upon repairs, decorations, alterations, or other improvements.
- To show the rental unit to prospective tenants, buyers, or lenders, or to provide entry to contractors or workers who are to perform work on the unit.
- If a court order permits the landlord to enter.
Effective January 1, 2003, California Civil Code 1954 states that except in the first two situations above (emergencies and abandonment), the landlord must give the tenant twenty-four (24) hours written notice before entering your unit.
The notice may be provided by the owner in one (1) of the following ways:
- Personally delivered to the tenant twenty-four (24) hours prior to entry;
- Left with someone of suitable age at the premises twenty-four (24) hours prior to entry;
- Left on, near, or under the usual entry door of the premises twenty-four (24) hours prior to entry; or
- Mailed to the resident six (6) days prior to the intended entry.
If the owner or agent's reason for entry is to exhibit the residential unit to prospective or actual purchasers, the notice may be given orally, in person, or by telephone. If the owner or agent has notified the resident in writing within 120 days of the verbal notice that the property is for sale and that the owner may contact the resident orally for the purpose of showing the unit, a twenty-four (24) hour verbal notice is presumed reasonable. At the time of entry, the owner or agent shall leave written evidence of the entry inside the unit.
Effective January 1, 2004 the Landlord may give less, notice if agreed upon with the tenants.
How much notice in advance does a tenant have to give before they move out of their unit?
To end a periodic rental agreement (month-to-month), a tenant must give the landlord proper written notice before vacating. If you pay rent monthly, you must give at least 30 days advance notice. If you pay rent weekly, you must give at least 7 days advance notice. (Civil Code Section 827(a)).
How much can my landlord legally raise my rent?
Under California Law there is currently no maximum limit a landlord can raise the rent. As of January 1, 2001, your landlord must give you at least 30 days' advance notice if the rent increase is 10 percent (or less) of the rent charged at any time during the 12 months before the rent increase takes effect. Your landlord must give you 60 days' advance notice if the rent increase is greater than 10 percent. (Civil Code Section 827b.)
Buildings under rent control fall under different rules. Check out the rent control law if you live in a covered jurisdiction.
Can my landlord increase my rent more than two times a year?
If you have a lease for more than 30 days (e.g. 1-year lease), your rent cannot be increased during the term of the lease, unless the lease allows rent increases. If you have a periodic rental agreement (month-to-month), your landlord can increase your rent, but must give you proper advance notice in writing. (Civil Code Section 8.27)
If you live in a building that is under rent control, your landlord can only raise your rent a set percentage once every twelve months.
What makes my unit legally "uninhabitable?"
California Civil Code Section 1941.1 states that a dwelling unit is considered to be uninhabitable (unlivable) if it substantially lacks any of the following:
- Effective waterproofing and weather protection of roof and exterior walls, including unbroken windows and doors.
- Plumbing facilities in good working order, including hot and cold running water, connected to a sewage disposal system.
- Gas facilities in good working order.
- Heating facilities in good working order.
- An electric system, including lighting, wiring, and equipment, in good working order.
- Clean and sanitary buildings, grounds, and appurtenances free from debris, filth, rubbish, garbage, rodents and vermin.
- Adequate trash receptacles in good repair.
- Floors, stairways, and railings in good repair. Contains lead hazards such as deteriorated lead-based paint, lead-contaminated dust, lead-contaminated soil, or disturbing lead-based paint without containment. (Health and Safety Code Section 17920.3 added to Civil Code Section 1941.1 on January 1, 2003.)
I want to withhold my rent this month because my landlord has refused to make repairs. What rights do I have?
California allows for withholding rent under VERY LIMITED conditions. Check of this Repair and Deduct packet for detail of California law and information about the rent control cities of Berkeley San Francisco and Oakland.
How many days do I have to wait to get my security deposit back?
California Civil Code Section 1950.5 requires that within three weeks (21 days) after the tenant has vacated the unit, the owner must either: 1) return the security deposit to the tenant, 2) furnish a copy of an itemized statement indicating the amount of any part of the security deposit used (e.g. for unpaid rent, repairs, etc.), or 3) a combination of #1 and #2.
Effective January 1, 2003, rental property owners must perform a walk-through with the residents no earlier than two (2) weeks prior to the termination of the tenancy. The intent of this new law is to give residents an opportunity to remedy identified deficiencies in the unit prior to move out.
If your building falls under rent control in areas such as the City of Berkeley, a landlord may be required to pay interest on your security deposit.
I have a policy of charging new tenants a security deposit equal to one month’s rent. If a tenant has children, I add $50 extra per child to the security deposit since kids usually cause more damage than normal. Is this legal?
No. A landlord cannot require a higher security deposit or damage deposit from people who have minor children than from people without minor children. According to the California Supreme Court in Wolfson and the Federal Fair Housing Law amended in 1988, it is unlawful to set deposits based on the stereotype that children as a class cause more damage to property than others.
I have a two-story apartment building and I don’t rent apartments above the first floor to people with small children. I’m afraid that small children could fall off the balcony and I may get sued. Is this legal?
No. You cannot deny someone the opportunity to rent a unit just because they have children.
The apartment building I own is in area where most people speak Spanish. Is it legal to place a “For Rent” sign in the front of the building that’s only in Spanish?
No. If you advertise your vacancy in Spanish, you must also advertise it in English.
I recently placed an advertisement for a vacant unit that read “A great building for single professionals.” Was this legal?
It is illegal to advertise in a manner that states or suggests a preference. The advertisement you placed discourages families with children from applying to rent your vacant unit. It also discourages married couples and partnered couples form applying for your vacant unit.
I recently rented a unit to someone who had some problems with his credit report. I had a second applicant with better credit, but I really liked the first applicant because we had a great conversation about sports. Did I make the right decision?
As a landlord, it is extremely important that you apply your rental policies and standards in an equal manner. If you have a policy of renting to the applicant with the best credit, then you should follow this policy at all times. Avoid making exceptions to the rule. It could come back to haunt you if the exception you make favors one group over another.
I have a “No Pets” policy at all the apartment buildings I own. I recently had a visually impaired tenant who needed a seeing eye dog apply for a unit. I turned her away because we do not allow pets. Was this legal?
No. If a disabled tenant requires the use of a service animal than you must grant her an exemption to the “No Pet” policy. The tenant’s use and enjoyment of her home would clearly be adversely affected if she wasn’t allowed to have her seeing-eye dog. However, this does not mean that your “No Pet” policy must be suspended for your non-disabled tenants.
I just received a rental application for a two-bedroom unit from a family of four: two adults and two children. One of the children is a boy and the other is a girl. I turned them down because I think the children should each have a separate room since they are different sexes. Was that legal?
No. You cannot require that children of opposite sexes have separate bedrooms. These decisions are within the parents’ control and not the landlord’s.
I recently found out that the on-site manager of the building I own has been harassing the female tenants. Am I legally liable for this?
Yes. As the owner of the building, you are legally responsible for the actions of your management personnel, maintenance staff, and any other agents you employ. Under both federal and state fair housing laws, sexual harassment of tenants is illegal.
A disabled tenant at one of my apartment buildings wants to install a ramp. Do I have to let her do this?
Under the fair housing laws, a disabled tenant can request a reasonable modification, which is a change in the physical structure of a building. If the modification is required to give the disabled tenant full use and enjoyment of her unit then you must grant the request. However, in most cases the tenant is responsible to cover the cost of the modification.
How selective may I be of my tenants?
You can be very selective so long as you use the same set of standards or requirements for all prospective tenants. These standards cannot be based upon personal characteristics such as race, gender, marital status, sexual orientation, disability, presence of children, religion, etc.
What should I look for in selecting a tenant?
The most important thing for you to determine is whether the tenant will be able to pay the rent in a regular, timely manner. You will also want to know that the tenant will not disturb other tenants and will keep the unit in a reasonable condition. These questions can often be answered by references from previous landlords, income verification and/or a credit bureau.
Does the law limit my advertising?
Yes. The law does not allow you to advertise a preference for a particular type of renter. The law prohibits advertising which would be illegal in practice. Exemptions under state and federal law for private sales and owner occupied four units or less housing do not apply to advertising.
I want a racially balanced building. Can I maintain a quota?
No. Quotas of any kind may be illegal, because in order to maintain a quota it might be necessary to discriminate against some people.
I’m afraid that a woman won’t be able to do gardening or repairs. Can I rent to men only?
No. If she is an otherwise qualified tenant, you cannot refuse to rent to her because of her gender. Many women are fully capable of maintaining a property, or they may choose to hire someone to do it for them. You can always check references, as long as you check for both women and men.
Can I set a dollar amount on the income I require of my tenants?
Yes. You may establish a reasonable minimum income criteria necessary for the applicant to afford the unit. This standard should be applied uniformly to all applicants. Keep in mind that the income need not come from employment. Some persons have sufficient verifiable income from other sources that would enable them to qualify.
Do I have to accept people on welfare or Social Security Insurance?
Yes, if their income is sufficient to meet your income requirements. The denial of such recipients could have a disparate impact upon people with disabilities, minorities and single parents. Source of income is a ‘protected’ characteristic.
Under state or federal law, can an owner of an apartment complex refuse to rent any of its apartments to a family solely because the family includes a minor child?
NO. The Supreme Court has ruled that refusing to rent to children is a class based exclusionary practice which violates federal Fair Housing Laws.
Are there any exceptions to this ruling in Question 8?
Yes. Complexes designed for senior citizens are exempt but must meet certain guidelines. Advertising of vacancies require specific language such as "housing for older persons."
Can I make rules which govern the conduct of children?
You have the right to adopt reasonable rules regulating the conduct of ALL tenants. Rules which address children ONLY may be viewed as discriminatory.
I would like to limit the number of people in my apartments to two adults and two children. Is there a problem with this?
We use the guideline of two per bedroom plus one. This is also a standard that the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) uses. Anything more strict (such as one adult per bedroom) raises a red flag and requires further investigation….how large are the rooms, etc.
I have always had older persons renting my apartments. Why can’t I keep it that way?
It would be very upsetting to my current tenants to have children in the building.
You cannot rent just to older persons unless you meet the qualifications for being designated as housing for older persons. You cannot choose particular tenants based on the preferences of your current tenants if those preferences are based on any of the protected class statuses.
I recently painted my apartments. Must I rent to people in wheelchairs who may bump into and mark the walls?
Yes. You cannot deny housing to qualified persons with disabilities. If there is damage that would be considered more than normal wear and tear, you may recover the repair costs through the security deposit.
Can I refuse to rent to couples living together who are not married?
California state law includes marital status as a protected class.
A young man came to look at an apartment, and he did not appear to be well. I’m afraid he has AIDS. Do I have to rent to him?
Yes. If he is otherwise qualified, you cannot refuse to rent to him because you believe he might have AIDS. A person with AIDS, or who is believed to have AIDS, is protected under the law from discrimination on the basis of physical disability. Current medical information is that AIDS is not contagious through casual contact so there is no danger to you or your tenants by renting to someone with AIDS.
A family with several children came to look at one of our apartments. The children were noisy and unruly, yelling and running in the hallways, and the parents made no attempt to control the children’s behavior. Do I have to rent to this family?
Not if you have reason to believe the family would not take care of the property or would not abide by the rules. Checking references may give you some additional information about the past and present behavior of this family and provide you with documentation for your denial. You cannot refuse to rent to a person just because they have children, but you may refuse to rent to a person that you believe will not fulfill tenancy requirements.
Can I refuse to rent to people whose sexual orientation offends me?
If an applicant or tenant requests an accommodation due to a disability, can a housing provider require documentation that he or she needs the accommodation?
A housing provider may ask an applicant or tenant to verify that they have a disability and need accommodation. The type of verification needed will depend on the specifics of the situation and may be provided by a doctor or other medical professional, a peer support group, or a service agency. However, the applicant or tenant is not required to tell the housing provider the specifics of their disability or to give the housing provider a full copy of their medical history. They only need to provide proof that they have a covered disability, that an accommodation is needed, why the accommodation is needed, and why the accommodation they are proposing will be helpful.
Can a housing provider evict a tenant who has filed a fair housing complaint and is now delinquent on rent?
Yes. A housing provider may follow previously established policies regarding non-payment of rent so long as the policy is being enforced consistently and in all situations regardless of whether a tenant is involved in a fair housing complaint or not. Housing providers may take appropriate action that would be applied to all tenants. However, it is unlawful to retaliate against persons who file complaints even where the discrimination complained of is not found.
The apartments on the upper floors of my building have balconies. I don’t think they’re safe for children to play. Can I refuse to rent these apartments to families with young children?
No. It is up to the parents or guardians who will be renting the apartment to decide if it is a suitable place for their family.
Do I have to rent to sexual offenders or people with criminal histories?
It is very important to be careful in this area. How do you know that an individual is a ‘sex offender’? If you know this for a fact, a person who is a registered sex offender is not protected under state or federal law for that designation. You may deny housing to a person who you know is a registered sex offender. The same applies to ‘people with criminal histories’. How do you know? And in this case, does the crime that the individual was convicted for (make sure they were convicted and not merely ‘charged’ with a crime) related to the likelihood that they will be a bad tenant? Drug dealing and domestic violence may be considered to be factors which would impact an individuals likelihood to be a good tenant.
What is arbitrary discrimination?
The Unruh Civil Rights Act in California prohibits discrimination based upon specific categories, but also prohibits you from discrimination against individuals for reasons having nothing to do with his/her being a good tenant.
I’ve had bad luck with some ethnic groups, singles and younger people in the past. Do i have to rent to them again?
Yes. Stereotyping can be both dangerous, unfair and illegal. Each prospective tenantmust be judged on his/her own merit. You cannot decide not to rent to a whole group of people because of previous experience with some individuals.
There are so many americans lookinf for housing. Do i have to rent to foreighners?
Yes. The law does not allow you to discriminate based on a prospective tenant’s national origin.
Can I refuse to rent to people with mental disabilities if they make me uncomfortable?
No. Prohibition against discrimination on the basis of disability includes “mental disabilities”.
Last month, one of my tenants had his girlfriend move into his apartment. I gave them notice that I was going to add $50 to their monthly rent. Is that legal?
Yes. If the total number of occupants increases or exceeds the number originally agreed upon in the rental or lease agreement, a landlord may charge reasonable additional rent (often referred to as a sucharge), depending on the circumstances. This would be dependant on applicable rent control ordinances. Most important is the intent behind the surcharge, and that it be tied in a reasonable way to the additional use of utilities and other services.