If you are a rental property owner in California, it's crucial that you fully understand all landlord-tenant laws, including the fair housing laws.
The Fair Housing Act essentially gives all individuals equal opportunity when looking for a dwelling. It is a federal law that was established in 1968 that forbids housing discrimination based on the protected classes, race, color, sex, nationality, or religion.
It has since added disability and familial status as protected classes. State laws can extend the housing discrimination laws to cover other protected groups as well.
Fair Housing laws apply to landlords, property management companies, tenant screening companies, home sellers, real estate agents, builders, mortgage lenders, and others during sale, rental, or financing of housing.
The act is overseen at the federal level by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD.
Here at JTS Property Management, we have put together this article so you will know the nuances of FHA law and how you as a landlord will work within these laws on a day to day basis.
The Fair Housing Act in California
The State of California takes Fair Housing law up a notch, as they have enhanced the act and added additional protected groups to the list.
Just like the federal law, California Fair Housing laws do not allow housing discrimination based on color, race, national origin, sex, familial status, disability, or religion.
Additionally, California provides protection for the following classes:
- Arbitrary Characteristics
- Gender Identity and Gender Expression
- Marital Status
- Source of income
- Sexual orientation
- And Others
In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing handles and investigates illegal housing discrimination complaints.
Types of Housing Discrimination
California landlords will want to ensure that they never intentionally or unintentionally discriminate against their tenants. We understand that in certain situations, it can be hard to know what constitutes as discrimination. So it's important that you thoroughly understand what discrimination could potentially look like.
The two main types of housing discrimination are:
This occurs when a prospective renter is treated negatively based on their protected class. If a landlord were to refuse to rent to someone or treat them differently, such as asking them to pay more rent because they have children or a service animal, it would be considered intentional discrimination.
An example of unintentional discrimination would be not renting to families with children because the unit is on a busy street, and you think it wouldn’t be safe for them. No matter the intention, it is still considered housing discrimination.
How to Provide Fair Housing in California
Housing discrimination can come in many forms and is often subtle. That’s why it is crucial that you are mindful when you’re marketing your rental property, screening prospective tenants, or managing your existing renters.
The law applies to all stages of the landlord-tenant relationship and not just during the application phase. Below are some examples of providing fair housing:
It is important to market your rental property to fill your vacancies. However, your marketing materials must only contain non-discriminatory language.
And while you are allowed to request documents that prove the prospective tenant’s ability to pay monthly and on time, you must not use words or phrases that discriminate against the protected classes. Examples include:
- Perfect for couple without kids
- English speaking tenants only
- Adults preferred
To avoid discriminatory practices when advertising your rental property or creating your listing, focus on the house features and special amenities rather than your preferences based on what you think is ideal.
Responding to Questions
When providing responses to your potential tenants’ questions, you must be consistently truthful and transparent. This means that no matter who is asking, you must be honest with your answers.
If asked about available homes or units, you must show all interested homeseekers all your available homes or units. You cannot refuse to rent or show to someone who is considered to be a part of the protected class or anyone who’s interested in your rental.
Rental pricing must remain consistent for all interested renters.
For example, providing different terms and conditions to potential tenants for similar rental properties, charging higher rent for those with service animals than those without pets, or asking for a higher security deposit for a family with toddlers are all considered discriminatory.
Accepting Applications and Screening
All applications from interested and qualified prospects must be accepted. Remember that while you can turn down those who are not capable of paying monthly rent, you cannot deny applications because they belong to any of the protected classes.
You must also conduct criminal background checks on all applicants and not just on certain applicants.
You must provide basic utilities and address maintenance requests to all applicants. Allowing certain tenants to put up Christmas lights but not allowing other tenants to put up decorations for their non-Christian holidays is considered discriminatory. Same with prohibiting a tenant from cooking certain foods because of possible smell.
In conclusion, fair housing laws in California are critical for protecting tenants from discrimination based on their race, gender, national origin, religion, disability, or other protected characteristics.
Landlords must be familiar with these laws and ensure they are in compliance with them, including in their advertising, tenant screening, rental policies, and eviction processes.
If you have any further questions about the FHA or need help with managing your rental property, feel free to call our team of professionals here at JTS Property Management!
Disclaimer: This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.