Under federal law and California state laws, landlords cannot discriminate against certain, protected groups of people. The Fair Housing Act, a federal law, prohibits a landlord from discriminating on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. The Fair Housing Act is enforced by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
There are also two California state laws governing unlawful discrimination by landlords: the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act). The California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces both laws. FEHA prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, disability, and source of income. The Unruh Act prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, or disability. Also, courts have construed the Unruh Act to also prohibit discrimination based on personal traits, beliefs, or characteristics similar to those listed in the Unruh Act.
Under FEHA and the Unruh Act, a landlord cannot discriminate against tenants or prospective tenants based on any of the protected characteristics (race, color, etc.) in any of the following ways. This is a non-exclusive list:
- Refusing to sell, rent, or lease.
- Refusing to negotiate for a sale, rental, or lease.
- Saying that housing or apartment is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when it is, in fact, available.
- Denying or withholding housing accommodations.
- Providing inferior housing terms, conditions, privileges, facilities, or services.
- Harassing a person in connection with housing accommodations.
- Canceling or terminating a sale or rental agreement.
- Providing segregated or separated housing accommodations.
- Placing an advertisement regarding the rental or sale of any housing accommodation that indicates any preference or limitation based upon race, color, religion, sex, national origin, ancestry, or any other protected characteristics.
In California, tenants alleging discrimination can file a complaint in civil court or they can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Here are the steps for filing a complaint with DFEH:
- The tenant files a housing discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
- DFEH investigates the complaint. During the investigation, DFEH serves the complaint on the landlord. If the case falls within the jurisdiction of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), DFEH will also serve the complaint with HUD. The landlord will be required to answer the complaint and will have an opportunity to resolve the case. If the investigation shows that there was no violation of law, DFEH will close the case.
- If DFEH’s investigation showed a violation of law, DFEH will schedule formal conciliation conferences; during the conciliation conferences, DFEH will present information supporting its belief that there was a violation and explore how to resolve the complaint.
- If conciliation fails, DFEH will litigate the case, either in a civil court or before the Fair Employment and Housing Commission (FEHC).
If you are a landlord who has been accused of discrimination, you should consult an experienced California landlord-tenant lawyer. Your lawyer can help you decide on a course of action, understand DFEH’s process, and protect your legal rights.