As a landlord in California, you have a legal obligation to treat your tenants fairly and equally under the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA). 

Enacted by Congress in 1968, it prohibits discriminatory practices in housing-related matters including the renting or sale of housing, or the lending of a mortgage towards buying a home. 

In the state of California, it is enforced by the state’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The following is everything you need to know about this important legislation:

What Led to the Enactment of the Fair Housing Act? 

The first iteration of the Fair Housing Act was the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It created a myriad of barriers to discrimination within private employment practices and the federal government. However, the act didn’t include a federal fair housing act. 

The other push to end discriminatory housing practices was the Chicago Freedom Movement. This was spearheaded by civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. These movements sought to end housing and employment discrimination within the city of Chicago and the Fair Housing Act was eventually enacted in 1968. 

What Classes are Protected Under the California Fair Housing Laws? 

The Federal Fair Housing Act prohibits discrimination in housing based on the seven protected classes. That is, race, color, religion, sex, familial status, nationality, and disability. As a landlord, you must make sure your policies and rules don’t discriminate against a tenant based on their protected classes. 

three people smiling as two new tenants sign a lease agreement

Consider the following examples:

  • Race – Under the Fair Housing Act, you must not, for instance, set higher or lower rents, or fail to respond to inquiries from prospective tenants based on their race. 
  • Color – Saying that your apartment has already been rented even though it hasn’t been, on the basis of a renter’s skin color is an act of discrimination prohibited under the Fair Housing Laws.
  • Religion – Tenants have a right to exercise their religious beliefs, including displaying religious symbols in their units.
  • Sex – As a landlord, it’d be unlawful for you to deny a tenant housing based on their sex.
  • Familial Status – Refusing to rent to families with young children is an example of familial status discrimination under the federal Fair Housing Act. 
  • Nationality – A person’s nationality should not prevent them from gaining access to a rental property. A landlord should ensure that when conducting pre-screenings and rental marketing they don’t display a bias for certain nationalities over others.
  • Disability – Tenants with disabilities are allowed reasonable accommodations and modifications when renting a unit. For example, you cannot deny a disabled tenant with a service animal access to the unit on the basis of having a no-pet policy. 

Some states have also passed their own set of laws adding extra protections. The state of California is one of those states. The following are extra protections under the California Fair Housing Laws: 

person passing American cash to another person

  • Source of Income – You must not deny a renter the opportunity to rent your home solely on the basis of their source of income. Examples of housing discrimination based on the source of income include advertising that an individual must have a job or setting income requirements artificially high.
  • Sexual Orientation – Tenants should be able to gain access to housing regales of their sexual orientation. Landlords must therefore treat same-sex couples the same as heterosexual married couples.
  • Marital Status – An example of discrimination against people based on marital status could include advertising that you prefer renting to married couples. 
  • Age – As a landlord, you must not refuse to rent your property to someone because they are 40 years and above. You must also not make improper advertising statements, such as “dynamic youthful community for young adults.” 

What are the Exemptions from Fair Housing Laws? 

Yes, there are a few exemptions to the Fair Housing Act. They are as follows: 

  • Single-family homes that are rented by the owner without the use of agent services. The owner must not own more than 3 homes at a time. 
  • A dwelling with a maximum of 4 units and the owner occupies one of the units. 
  • A dwelling for the elderly. Such a home is exempt from discrimination based on familial status, as it’s meant to assist the elderly. 
  • Homes operated by clubs or religious organizations may limit membership. 

Judge banging a gavel

What Can a Landlord Do to Avoid Fair Housing Violations? 

Here’s how you can avoid housing discrimination claims from your tenants: 

  • Assume everyone who is applying for housing is an agent of HUD. 
  • Have a consistent tenant screening process that uses qualifying criteria other than protected classes. 
  • Hire a good property management company to help you stay compliant.
  • Treat all tenants equally and fairly, whether responding to their maintenance requests or enforcing the terms of the lease. 
  • Familiarize yourself with the local and state fair housing laws and remain up-to-date on any changes to these policies. 

Bottom Line

To run a successful rental property, you must have a clear understanding of the Fair Housing Act. Landlords should also remain up-to-date on landlord-tenant law, the legal eviction process, justified reasons for breaking a lease, and security deposit rules

Do you need expert help in managing your properties? Keyrenter Property Management San Diego can help. We can help you stay legally compliant, and manage the different aspects of your investment. From marketing your property to collecting rent to screening tenants, to everything in between, you won’t have anything to worry about. Get in touch to learn more!

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 regard to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.