Abiding by fair housing laws is extremely important in avoiding the possibility of discrimination, not to mention the legal and monetary problems that may arise. You want to be a fair, objective landlord, thus using a professional property management company should be an important part of your housing process. When you hire the pros, you’ll have a team who stays current on all the legal processes, checking all appropriate boxes.
All states are required to comply with the federal Fair Housing Act, which protects tenants from discrimination by housing providers. The state of California created additional housing laws that provide further protections as well. As a landlord, it is important to understand these laws before you list your property on the market or speak with potential tenants.
California’s Fair Housing Laws
The federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on seven protected classes:
Familial Status - Refers to the presence of at least one child under 18 years of age. This class also protects prospective tenants and renters who are pregnant or in the process of adopting a child. If your rental property qualifies as senior housing, then you may legally turn away a family with children.
It is important to note the FHA has a specific definition for “disability” that includes physical impairments, mental impairments, and chronic alcoholism (if being addressed through a recovery program), among other things. Potential renters or tenants in this category are entitled to reasonable accommodations to policies, for example, allowing service animals despite a no-pet rule. Tenants are also entitled to reasonable modifications to physical structures at your property for increased accessibility, such as installing grab bars in a bathroom.
In addition to the federal Fair Housing Act, California has two fair housing laws: the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act. These laws prohibit discrimination based on the following:
Source of income
Gender Identity and Expression
Any Arbitrary Characteristics
Create a Uniform Screening Process
The basis of the fair housing laws are to ensure landlords do not treat potential renters or tenants differently because of any inherent characteristics of the person. To ensure compliance with fair housing laws, apply the same screening process to every potential tenant. For example, if you want to run a background check on potential tenants, make sure you run background checks for every potential tenant without exception.
It is also important to review the questions you ask during your screening process and when you talk to potential tenants on the phone or in person. Sometimes landlords will ask questions they do not realize violate fair housing laws. For example, you not should ask whether they have a service animal because this could be interpreted to mean that you do not rent to disabled people. You could, however, ask for the certification status of the animal. You may also not ask whether potential renters have kids because familial status is a protected class. Alternatively, you can ask how many occupants there will be.
Advertise Your Rental, Not Your Ideal Tenant
Every landlord knows that advertising your rental is the first step to finding a good tenant; however, make sure that you’re advertising the best qualities of your rental, and not who you would like to rent your property. This will ensure your advertisements are fair and free from discrimination.
Here are a few examples of advertisements that go against fair housing laws:
“No young men” or “Female preferred”
“Perfect for singles or couples”
“Nice, quiet, mature neighborhood”
“No Latinos” or “Asians only”
“Christians only” or “No Muslims”
Instead, focus on what your rental has to offer. Here are a few examples of things you can say in your rental advertisement:
“Spacious, open floor plan”
“Beautiful, modern kitchen”
“Gorgeous 1 bedroom”
“A short walk away from the heart of downtown”
Legal Reasons to Evict a Tenant
As a landlord, you will sometimes face disagreements with tenants. That said, not every disagreement justifies an eviction. To evict a tenant, you need to have valid reasons such as:
Excessive property damage
Criminal or drug-related activity
Non-payment of rent
Evicting a tenant for any of these reasons is legally justified and falls under your rights as a landlord; however, evicting a tenant based on discriminatory or retaliatory reasons violates fair housing laws. An example of retaliatory acts includes increasing rent, or harassing or threatening a tenant.
If you have any questions about California’s fair housing laws--give us a call. We look forward to speaking with you!