CA Fair Housing Laws for Landlords

Q:  What Fair Housing Laws pertain to California and who enforces them?

A:  All federal Laws including:

1. Original FHA (Fair Housing Act) which provides civil rights, also called Title 8.
2. FHAA (Fair Housing Amendment Act) which protects handicapped and familial status.
– HUD (Housing and Urban Development) enforces FFHA on the federal level.
– Department of Justice handles fair housing cases involving failure to construct apartments that meet accessibility requirements.
– Private FHA/Human Rights and private legal firms often handle complaints without referring to state and federal agencies.

State Laws including:

1. Unruh Act which covers discrimination in business
– Covers age discrimination, senior housing qualification and sexual harassment by rental management.
2. FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act) which combines the early state civil rights Rumford Act and employment laws to be essentially equivalent with federal laws to facilitate enforcement.
– DFEH (Department of Fair Employment and Housing) is the primary enforcer on the state level.
– California Dept. of Justice
– Private FHA/Human Rights and private legal firms as above.

Statute of Limitations

1.  1 to 3 years, depending on law and where filed.
– Documentation and all paperwork should be kept for four years to provide  maximum protection.

Q. What are the pro-Fair Housing steps a property management company or owner should take?

A. All property owners or management companies should:
– Have a fair housing statement showing compliance to Fair Housing laws to be read and signed by employees and agreed to by vendors used.

– Have an operations manual that includes the basics of Fair Housing.

– Display a Fair Housing poster for all units of 4 or more.

– Display a California FFEH poster showing protected classes.

– Use the fair housing logo on printed material to show compliance with those laws.

– Provide pro-fair housing training at least every other year and provide and READ the annual updates in the California Fair Housing Encyclopedia.

– Be aware of properties covered by California fair housing laws which include the following:
1. Apartments
2. Co-ops
3. Condos
4. Single family/duplexes
5. Mobile home parks
6. Travel trailer parks
7. Women’s shelters
8. Retirement homes
9. Time shares

– Be aware of properties that have partial exemptions which include:
1. “Not for profit” religious organizations who are allowed to restrict rentals to members.
2. Membership organizations who are allowed to rent only to members, such as fraternities and sororities.
3. Senior housing which can restrict rentals to those of a certain age group
-none of the above may discriminate on any other basis.

– Be aware California law prohibits privately owned and operated housing near college campuses to restrict rentals to non-students unless a legal arrangement exists between the college/university and owner/property management.

– Obtain insurance to protect in cases of unintentional discrimination, but understand insurance will NOT cover in cases where deliberate or intentional discrimination has occurred.

Q: What are the definitions of disability and when identified, what are the rules of confidentiality for a landlord or rental agent?

A: Definitions are more broadly defined in CA than in Federal law and include having any of the below listed impairments that limit or make it difficult for a person
– to stand or walk
-to breath, speak or hear
-to work or do simple tasks
-to socialize

To summarize, those with  mental/psychological, physical disability and certain medical conditions as well as recovered addicts, people with HIV or AIDS and alcoholics (unless their behavior creates disturbances to other tenants) as well as anyone who has been identified as disabled are considered to be protected under disability acts

Not included are
1. those illegally using drugs
2. those convicted of manufacturing and distributing drugs
3.those who, by their behavior, pose a direct threat to other tenants or property

-those who have a history of drug or alcohol or drug abuse who have exhibited disruptive or destructive behavior in the past, but who have completed or are in a treatment program may be be considered for housing

-Any disabled person or their representative may file a complaint for discrimination

To insure confidentiality, landlords or rental agents may not:
1. engage in discussion of nature of disability, even if brought up by prospective or current tenant
2. discuss nature of tenant’s disability with other staff, unless pertinent to meeting tenant’s need and never with other tenants
3. ask applicant about their disability unless property includes apartments reserved for those with disabilities, in that case, all applicants may be questioned to insure eligibility for same

Rental agents need written procedures to handle disability requests
1. they should be easy for the applicant to follow
2. procedures should be followed closely to ensure all applicants are treated fairly and equally
3. agent should be accommodating if applicant cannot follow procedures exactly and ask for direction if necessary to insure compliance
4.applications should be handled in a timely fashion

Q:  What are the definitions of disability and when identified, how must the agent or landlord handle issues of confidentiality and applicant’s requests for modification?

 

A:  Disabled persons have two special rights under the law to insure equal rights in housing
1. right of Reasonable Modification – a physical change made to a housing unit that enables the person to have full use and enjoyment of unit and
2. right of Reasonable Accommodation – a change or alteration to a rule, policy, practice or service to allow person equal opportunity to enjoy their tenancy

-management or landlord is not required to provide modification until applicant or resident makes a request
-request should be in writing, but applicant or resident is not required to use management’s standard form
-if request is made orally, or person is unable or unwilling to put it in writing, it is still to be considered a request and management should put it in writing for the tenant or applicant, have it reviewed and initialed or signed if possible

-if a request is clearly necessary and related to the person’s disability, for instance, widening a doorway for someone whose wheelchair will not comfortably fit through, no verification is necessary; however
-if applicant requests something that does not appear necessary in view of observable disability, verification of necessity of request is allowed
-in addition, if there is no obvious evidence of disability, as in case of mental disability, heart condition, etc., you may ask for verification that
1. person meets state definition of disability
2. what they are asking for is necessary
3. it is related to their disability

Q:  How must a property owner or management company handle applicant’s requests for modifications?

A:  Owners or agents need

1. to understand disabled persons have two special rights to insure equal rights in housing
a. right of Reasonable Modification:  a physical change made to a unit that enables the person to have full use and
enjoyment of the unit
b. right of Reasonable Accommodation:  a change or alteration to a rule, policy, practice or service to allow the person
equal opportunity to enjoy their tenancy

2. to have written procedures to handle disability requests
a. they should be easy for the applicant to follow
b. procedures should be followed closely to ensure all applicants are treated equally and fairly
c.  agent should be accommodating if applicant is unable to follow procedures exactly and ask for direction from
superiors or seek legal advice if necessary
d. requests should be handled in a timely fashion

They should also be aware
-management or landlord is not required to provide modification until applicant or resident makes a request
-request should be in writing, but applicant or resident is not required to use management’s standard form
-if request is made orally or person is unable or unwilling to put it in writing, is must still be considered a request
and management should put it in writing for applicant or resident to review and initial or sign, if possible

Disability related requests:
-if a request is clearly necessary and related to the person’s disability/adaptive equipment, for instance, widening a
doorway for wheelchair bound person, no verification is necessary
-if person requests something that does not appear necessary in view of observable disability, verification of
necessity of request is allowed
-in addition, if there is no obvious evidence of disability, as in a case of mental disability, heart condition, etc., you
may ask for verification
1. that person meets state definition of disability
2. that what they are asking for is necessary
3. that it is related to their disability

Q:  Who sets the standards for accessibility, what is a reasonable modification and who is financially responsible?

A:   The ADA requires all properties where public is invited, including a rental office, must be accessible unless:
-it is “technically infeasible” or
-it poses an “undue financial burden” on the property
-this includes not only rental offices, but models, community areas and parking
– If building was first occupied after 3-13-91 and was not built to meet federal access standards, then some
modification, such as ramp to access front door, must be paid by building

however

CA fair housing laws pertain to private areas, such as those only residents and their guest would use.
1.  A reasonable modification is one designed to make living easier and safer for tenant: this includes
-widened doorways
-lowered cupboards
-grab bars
-walk in tubs or roll in showers
-safer floor surfaces
An unreasonable request could be asking for a load bearing wall to be moved or an elevator installed
a. after request for modification is made, tenant must provide info to allow management to decide if
request is reasonable and work with tenant to provide quality modification
b. if request appears unreasonable, management MUST attempt to negotiate an alternative solution
acceptable and workable to both parties

2.  Cost of modification, including necessary permits, is usually paid by tenant

unless

a. property has federal funding, then property bears expense
b. owner has specific aesthetic requests: then he bears difference between requested modification and
owner’s requests
c. modification request only involves public accessibility, such as ramp to front door and building did not meet
federal access standards in place at the time of completion
3.  If modification is made, but any or all changes will need to be returned to original condition at great expense
after tenant’s departure, the owner, under the law, may require tenant to establish interest bearing escrow
account to save funds to return unit to original condition or condition acceptable to non-disabled person.
This should be done with advice of legal counsel as modifications and renovations can be very fact specific.

Q:  What is “Steering” and why should it be avoided

A:  Steering is an attempt by owners/managers to control where someone lives because of their protected class,
regardless of how well intended.  Perceived “steering” can result in a fair housing complaint.
Common targets are:
1.  Families with children
Steering can include directing applicants to
-downstairs or end units
-“family” buildings
-units near a/the playground
2. Elderly or Disabled
Steering can include directing applicants to
-accessible units
-first or ground floor units
-buildings or sections of buildings designated for seniors
3. Race/Color/Nationality
Steering can include directing applicants to
-least desirable units
-other properties
if a unit that meets applicant’s needs is not available, it is better to refer him/her to another property in the
portfolio to reduce chance applicant will feel they are being discriminated against

Q:  What is “Chilling” and why must it be avoided?

A:  Chilling refers to comments or acts designed to discourage applicants in a protected class from renting your properties and is therefore intentional discrimination.  They are a form of obvious steering.

General examples of Chilling can be telling applicant from a protected class thing such as:
-there are gangs, drugs or a lot of crime in the neighborhood
-there are not other people like you living on the property
-it is a noisy area
*Exception – if there has been recent crime on the property or there is serious crime in the neighborhood, applicant can be informed.  Manager or agent should check on policy of disclosure of “known risks.”

Most incidents of chilling involve families with children.  Examples of chilling statements include:
-there is no place for children to play
-there are busy streets
-we have strict noise rules
-balconies are unsafe
-there are ponds, streams, pools, etc that present danger to children
-there are gangs and drugs in area so it is not a safe place for children
-the schools are bad
If applicant brings up crime, schools, etc., refer them to local authorities or the internet

Seniors or disabled persons are also often chilled, sometimes with good intention   Examples can be:
-commenting on physical condition or frailty
– questioning applicants ability to manage living in certain units in case of fire or emergency
-warning applicant that noisy children live in the building or complex
-warning about crime in area (unless there is need to disclose “known risks”)
-questioning applicant about ability to live alone

Sunset Property Management and Realty is a licensed CA BRE real estate broker and is only qualified to advise on real estate. If you desire legal advice, consult your attorney.  Sunset Property Management & Realty makes no representations or warranties, expressed or implied, as to the accuracy of information related to national, state, and/or local laws and codes. Viewers should not rely on the information provided and should verify all information with the original issuing source.  Sunset Property Management & Realty does not bear any responsibility for reliance on the information posed on this website.

Compare

Enter your keyword