Unlawful Discrimination

housing-rentA landlord cannot refuse to rent to a tenant, or engage in any discrimination on the basis of group characteristics specified by law that are not closely related to the landlord’s business needs: 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, age, and medical condition. This includes such discrimination in all oral or written statements (e.g. advertisements for rent).

The landlord may, however, properly inquire into a prospective tenant’s credit history and his ability to pay the rent and security deposit. In disability cases, as a condition of making modifications, the landlord may require the person with a disability to enter into an agreement to restore the interior of the rental unit to its previous condition at the end of the tenancy (excluding reasonable wear and tear). Making such accommodations (including, for example, accommodations for a companion or service dog) is landlord’s obligation. (See Government Code Sections 12926(p), 12927(c)(1),(e), 12948, 12955(d); Civil Code Sections 51, 51.2, 55.1(b). See Moskovitz et al., California Landlord-Tenant Practice, Section 2.27 (Cal. Cont. Ed. Bar 2011).)

Under California law, a landlord cannot use a different financial or income standard for persons who  will be living together and  combining their incomes than standard used for married persons who combine their incomes. in the case of a government rent subsidy, a landlord who is assessing a potential tenant’s eligibility for a rental unit must use a financial or income standard that is based on the portion of rent that the tenant would pay – see Government Code Sections 12955(n),(o). A landlord cannot apply rules, regulations or policies to unmarried couples who are registered domestic partners that do not apply to married couples, nor can a landlord inquire as to the immigration status of the tenant or prospective tenant or require that a tenant or prospective tenant make any statement concerning his or her immigration or citizenship status. However, a landlord may request information or documents in order to verify an applicant’s identity and financial qualifications. (See Harris v. Capital Growth  Investors XIV (1991) 52 Cal.3d 1142 [278 Cal.Rptr. 614]; Civil Code Section 1940.3; California Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant, Paragraph 2:569.1 (Rutter Group 2011); California Practice Guide, Landlord-Tenant, Paragraph 2.553 citing Koebke v. Bernardo Heights Country Club (2005) 36 Cal.4th 824  [31 Cal.Rptr.3d 565]. See Civil Code Section 1940.3. 46 42 United States Code Section 3607(b), Civil Code Section 51.3(b)(1).).

Finally, “housing for senior citizens” includes housing that is occupied only by persons who are at least age 62, or housing that is operated for occupancy by persons who are at least age 55 and that meets other occupancy, policy and reporting requirements stated in the law. The owner cannot discriminate on the basis of medical condition or age. A person in a single-family dwelling who advertises for a roommate may express a preference on the basis of gender, if living areas (such as the kitchen, living room, or bathroom) will be shared by the roommate. (See Government Code Sections 12927(a)(2)(A), 12955(c); Civil Code Sections 51,51.2, Government Code Section 12948; Government Code Section 12927(c)(2)(B).).

If a landlord refuses to rent to you because of your race or national origin), you may have several legal remedies, including:

  • Recovery of out-of-pocket losses.
  • An injunction prohibiting the unlawful practice.
  • Access to housing that the landlord denied you.
  • Damages for emotional distress.
  • Civil penalties or punitive damages.
  • Attorney’s fees.


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