We rarely come across landlords and rental property owners in San Jose who discriminate against tenants intentionally. Not only would it indicate a major character flaw, it would also be bad business.
However, it’s easy to find yourself in the middle of a fair housing claim without realizing you did or said something that was discriminatory. The laws are very strict and very specific when it comes to fair housing. They are also constantly changing. You need to pay attention to the requirements and make sure you’re not discriminating in any of your marketing, screening, or management practices.
Federal Fair Housing Act
All of your fair housing compliance starts at the federal level, with the Fair Housing Act. Under this law, landlords are not permitted to deny someone rental housing due to:
- National Origin
- Familial Statusv
So, if you write up a listing for your property and you say it’s not suitable for families with children, you might be discriminating. Or, if you say your home is close to churches, you might get in trouble as well.
California Fair Housing Laws
California goes a little further. You’re required to understand and comply with the federal fair housing protected classes, and you are also prohibited from discriminating against people based on:
- Sexual orientation
- Marital status
- Physical attributes or characteristics
- Source of income (i.e. public assistance)
Tenants have a lot of rights when it comes to rental laws in California, and the penalties for violating those rights are high. If a tenant or applicant believes you have discriminated against him or her, they can file an administrative complaint with the Department of Housing and Urban Development or they can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The investigation is likely to take at least a few months, and you’ll have to attend either an administrative mediation or a court hearing.
Common Fair Housing Mistakes
We often see landlords get tripped up in a few key areas. One is in their marketing, when they provide information that they think would be helpful to potential tenants but can actually be interpreted as being discriminatory. We also see a lot of mistakes with tenant screening. You need to have a written set of rental criteria that sets the standards every applicant must meet before they are approved for your property. If you are holding different applicants to different standards, you can get into fair housing trouble. Document your criteria in writing, provide it to every applicant, and screen everyone consistently.
Finally, we see a lot of mistakes with pets and service animals. A service animal is not a pet. An emotional support animal is not a pet. You cannot deny a tenant with a service or support animal on the basis of not allowing pets. You also cannot charge a pet deposit, pet fee, or pet rent.
There’s a lot more to tell you about fair housing, and our team stays up to date with all the laws, regulations, and changes on the local, state, and federal level. If you have any questions, please contact us at Cornerstone Property Management.