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California Fair Housing Act: An Overview

As a California landlord, you are obligated to comply with federal, state, and local landlord-tenant laws. Your success as a landlord is directly attributed to your knowledge of them and your ability to carry out their requirements.

One of the key responsibilities that landlords have is treating tenants fairly and equally. What constitutes fair and equal treatment is outlined in the Fair Housing Act at a federal level, and California has a number of housing laws that include additional guidelines.

The following article is an overview of the California Fair Housing Law.

What is the Fair Housing Act? Passed into law by Congress in 1968, the Fair Housing Act was enacted to end widespread discrimination that existed in housing-related matters. The act recognizes that every American citizen has a basic right to be treated equally and fairly in the buying, selling, and renting of property.

But even before the groundbreaking legislation was enacted, efforts to stamp out discrimination have existed since the 19th century. The Rumford Fair Housing Act of 1963 and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were the first two attempts Congress made to address discrimination.

But, it wasn’t until 1968 that any serious change took place. The Fair Housing Act was a follow-up to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and also made significant updates to the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 was passed just a week after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It prohibits discrimination in housing-related matters on the basis of some protected characteristics. The protected characteristics are race, color, sex, religion, disability, national origin, and familial status. The U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is the government body tasked with enforcing the federal antidiscrimination laws.

California State and Local Fair Housing Laws In addition to complying with the federal anti-discrimination laws, you must also comply with the state’s Unruh Act, as well as the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

Additional protected characteristics in California include sexual orientation, age, marital status, medical condition, ancestry, and creed.

What’s more, some city and county ordinances in California may also forbid additional types of housing discrimination.

How can Landlords Avoid Discrimination When Selecting Tenants in California? Before you even advertise your rental property, you must be cautious of the language you’ve used on the rental ad. It’s essential to know what statements you can and can’t include in the ad.

The following are statements that may discriminate against a particular class of prospective tenants.

  • “Perfect neighborhood for singles” or “family-friendly.”

  • “Perfect for a female professional.”

  • “Walking-Distant from…”

  • “A Christian Home”

  • “Ideal for an Asian Family”

Rather than focus on the quality of the tenants you want, try to focus on what your home has to offer. Additionally, you must also avoid certain questions when interviewing potential tenants. Some of the most common questions include:

  • Are you White or Hispanic?

  • You look different – where were your parents born?

  • What is your first language?

  • Is that a service dog?

  • Are you pregnant?

  • Do you belong to the LGBTQ community?

  • Are you married/divorced?

Such questions are discriminative as per the Fair Housing Act. The following are acceptable questions that you might want to ask when choosing prospective tenants.

  • What is your monthly income?

  • How long are you willing to stay?

  • Have you ever been served with an eviction notice? If so, what was the violation?

  • Are you employed? If so, how long have you been working there?

  • How many people will be living with you?

  • Do you keep a pet?

  • Have you told your current landlord that you would be moving out of their apartment?

  • Have you ever had issues with paying rent? If so, how did you address that?

  • Why are you moving?

  • How soon do you intend to move in?

Next, you can go ahead and verify all the information they have provided. This may mean:

  • Calling the prospective tenant’s landlord to verify the information provided.

  • Calling their employer to verify their employment and income details.

  • Getting a credit report from a credit reporting bureau like Equifax.

  • Running the tenant’s name through police records to check any past criminal history.

Before checking their credit reports, make sure you have their written consent first. You must be approved by a credit check company to run credit checks on prospective tenants.

Is Consistency Necessary when Qualifying Prospective Tenants? Yes! Your tenant screening process must be consistent. You have a duty to treat all tenants more or less the same. For example, you cannot arbitrarily set tougher standards (like a higher security deposit) for certain prospective tenants than others.

If you do so, you’ll be violating federal laws and opening yourself up to a series of lawsuits. So, if you give one of your renters a break (like waiving their late rent fee), you must also do the same for other tenants as well.

What are the Penalties for Housing Discrimination? Failing to adhere to the provisions of the Fair Housing Act and other anti-discrimination laws carries severe penalties. You may be ordered to pay damages to the applicant or to rent your home to them. In severe cases, you may even be ordered to pay punitive damages amounting to thousands of dollars, plus their attorney fees. What Agencies in California Handle Discrimination Complaints? California tenants have multiple avenues when it comes to fighting discrimination issues. They have two options. They can either file an administrative complaint with HUD or the California DFEH. The agency will then investigate the case to determine whether discrimination actually occurred. This is a process that can take many months to conclude.

A tenant may also be able to sue their landlord in a state or federal court – so long as the tenant hasn’t signed any conciliation agreement or the administrative hearing hasn’t started.

Disclaimer: This blog isn’t a substitute for expert legal advice from a qualified attorney. Laws change frequently, and this blog might not be updated at the time you read it. Please get in touch with us for any questions you might have regarding this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.


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