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5 Modern Forms of Housing Discrimination to Avoid

by Sawyer Shwetz | Feb 01, 2019 | Landlord Tips

It has been more than 55 years since MLK had a dream. I'm sure you're familiar with his vision of equality. He declared, "I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

A few years after making this famous speech, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot dead while standing on the balcony of his hotel room.

One week after MLK was assassinated, Congress passed the Fair Housing Act of 1968. It was originally written to protect discrimination based on:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religion
  • National Origin

Over time the Fair Housing Act has been expanded through both legislative and judicial processes. Today the Fair Housing Act has grown to include:

Mesa Properties is committed to providing a non-discriminatory service to all of our customers. We are both legally and morally obligated to.

Our commitment to equality sometimes means telling owners:

"No. That is not a legitimate reason for denial. Denying for that reason opens you up to a Fair Housing lawsuit."

It is very rare for us to find an owner that wants to openly discriminate based on race. If this did happen, that owner would no longer be doing business with Mesa Properties.

However, it is not uncommon for someone to screen applicants and not even realize that they are discriminating. After all, the Fair Housing Act has grown well beyond its intended purpose of protecting against race based discrimination.

Here are a few of the most common forms of discrimination that we see.

1. "They Have Too Many Kids!"

When we present an applicant to an owner, this is by far the most common objection we get.

In 1988, Familial status was added to the Fair Housing Act. Now family size is officially considered a protected class. An owner is not allowed to discriminate because an applicant has too many children, or because the children are too young.

Also, it should be noted that the law makes it very clear that charging a security deposit for children, or charging "kid rent" is illegal.

One of the laws that can be legally enforced is occupancy limits. The courts of California have ruled that the "two plus one" rule applies. It means that you can have two people per bedroom plus one (presumably for the couch).

Therefore, if you own a 3 bedroom home you cannot discriminate against anyone with 7 or less family members.

2. "Their Commute is Too Far."

This is a strange complaint that we've gotten in the past. I've done lots of research and tried to decipher the precise wording in the Fair Housing Act. As far as I can tell, the law does not prevent open discrimination based on how far their drive to work is.

However, just because the Fair Housing Act does not exclusively prevent this, you are still opening yourself up to a lawsuit.

Many lawyers would jump at the opportunity to take a case like this. Even if the landlord ended up winning, nobody enjoys being sued in federal court.

Like it or not, the government has put strict limits on appropriate reasons for housing denial.

3. "That 'Emotional Support' Animal is a Sham!"

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development, also known as HUD, has classified certain animals as medical devices.

Medical devices assist disabled people. Disabled people are protected under the Fair Housing Act. Therefore, the utilization of service animals are protected under federal law.

Not all service dogs are created equal. Not all service dogs spend their time leading the blind. Some dogs, known as emotional support dogs, are legitimate medical devices that provide relief to a handicap people.

And yes, that relief can be in the form of emotional support.

To ensure full compliance with federal law, we use PetScreening.com to weed out the fake service dogs.

If you have more questions about service animals and the complicated law that encompass them, please check out this article.

4. "He's an Alcoholic!"

HUD defines alcoholism as a disease. A diseased person is considered to be handicapped.

It's pretty straight forward, denying someone housing because they have struggled with alcoholism or drug addiction is considered a violation of the Fair Housing Act.

In order to be protected by federal law, the alcoholic must be enrolled in an AA, or AA like recovery program. And, drug addicts must leave their drug addiction in the past in order to be considered a protected class.

5. "They're Homosexuals"

Both Federal and California law has made this very clear. Any discrimination based on sexual orientation or identity is outright prohibited.

Being gay is considered a protected class. And, sexual orientation, or even gender identity, is not a valid reason for denial.

It is however a valid reason for a lawsuit. A lawsuit that could cost you $100,000 in penalties alone. That doesn't even count lawyer's fees.

California is Even More Strict

The Fair Housing Act itself does not apply to all landlords. In other states, there are a few situations in which a landlord can legally discriminate. However, California has made its own laws, and there is only one situation in which a landlord can legally discriminate.

The landlord must not use a property management company (broker), and the landlord must not rent to more than 1 individual.In other words, California landlords are allowed to discriminate when choosing a roomate.

It Gets Complicated Real Quick

If you are struggling to navigate the labyrinth known as our real estate laws, please feel free to give us a call. We'd love to talk to you about how we can make your life easier. Let us do what we do best and worry about legal compliance for you.

If you have other questions about new laws in 2019, please check out this article.

We are not lawyers nor a law firm, and we do not provide legal advice. None of our employees or representatives are lawyers, and they also do not provide legal advice. The accuracy of this content is in no way warranted or guaranteed. Our website and services are not substitutes for actual lawyers. We recommend that you consult a lawyer for all legal advice.

 

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