Fair Housing – Rights & Red Flags

Under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Unruh Civil Rights 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, sex (including pregnancy, childbirth or medical conditions related to them, as well as gender and perception of gender), sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, ancestry, familial status, source of income, disability, medical condition, or age. (Source: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/)

Below are three hot topics for Fair Housing red flags. Being knowledgeable in these topics will help protect you as a landlord in providing the proper rights for your tenants.

Criminal Convictions

As of April 2016, the Department of Fair Housing (HUD) released a memorandum regarding discrimination against convicted criminals and housing. The Federal Government indicated that criminals are entitled to a place to live without discrimination solely because they have been convicted of a crime. After talking to our California Association of Realtors attorneys, it is advisable to have your attorney review any Convicted Criminal rental policy you create for accuracy. What you should do:

  1. Create a policy with your attorney based on property related liability concerns.
  2. Do not create a policy against “criminals in general” or a “blanket policy” that states any convicted criminal will be denied. Creating a criminal policy will make you a target for investigation, so do make sure your attorney has given you the green light before posting or enforcing your policy.
  3. Do not be afraid to pull criminal background checks and enforce an attorney approved policy. Be mindful that criminal history is not linked to a social security number, they are only associated with names and DOB. Do your due diligence once you have information to make sure you have your facts straight.
  4. Do not create a policy based on arrest records alone. This is illegal. Arrests are not an indication of conviction or proof any crime was committed.
    (Source: http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/documents/huddoc?id=HUD_OGCGuidAppFHAStandCR.pdf)

Service Animals

Service Companion Animals are also a hot ticket item right now. Many tenants are abusing the law by indicating their pet is a service companion. Many landlords are rolling over because they fear jeopardizing Fair Housing law. Other landlords flat out refuse to accept any animal, thereby becoming a target for investigation. What you should do:

  1. Request proof from a physician that the animal is indeed a service companion. You may ask for the details of the animal and require a prospective tenant to fill out an informational form.
  2. Accept the service companion once you have written proof and required form returned. However, you may not take an extra deposit.
  3. Require renters insurance naming the animal on the policy for incidentals.
    (Source: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Publications_StatLaws_DisabHous.htm)

Reasonable Modifications

There are two terms that get crisscrossed, Reasonable Accommodations and Reasonable Modification. Both are required for Fair Housing, but the below information is for Reasonable Modification. When a tenant needs a wheelchair ramp, closer parking space, bathroom bars installed, etc., the tenant can require reasonable changes to the property that help them have equal opportunity in and around their home. What you should do:

  1. Request all changes to be made in writing.
  2. Require all changes be paid for by the tenant (unless prohibited by law).
  3. Check with your HOA, if applicable, or City Code to ensure you are abiding by all laws when making modifications (i.e. wheelchair ramps in common areas, etc.).
  4. Require work to be performed in a workman-like manner.
  5. Don’t be shy to ask for more information or consult an attorney to ensure the request is reasonable and required.
    (Source: http://www.disabilityrightsca.org/pubs/CM1001.html)

Article by Bethany Luchetta, Feel Good Property Management Broker