East Bay Landlords: Avoid Potential Housing Discrimination Claims by Knowing the Law
By Jan Feagley
The Bay Area rental market is hot – particularly during the summer months. After my property management team advertises a property or unit for lease, we’re often flooded with inquiries from potential candidates.
This is particularly true for rental homes in the areas around Berkeley when students are looking for housing both in Berkeley and in nearby cities such as Albany, El Cerrito and Richmond.
Generating this high amount of interest in a property is ideal, but at the same time, can be overwhelming for us and our landlord clients. Figuring out which tenants are the best for your property is sometimes tough — but it can be done by thoroughly and consistently screening candidates. (In this article, we shared some of our power tips on how to properly screen tenants in the East Bay.
If you are a new real estate investor in the East Bay, and not familiar with landlord/tenant law, you might be tempted to cut corners when you are inundated with applications. However, landlords should keep in mind that all applicants must be given a fair shake and reviewed in the same way, as required by law.
When our property managers at Feagley Realtors begin the process of sifting through applications and meeting candidates, we might find a potential tenant who has a history of bad credit or negative references from previous landlords. Those types of issues probably – but not always – mean that tenant is not a good fit. That candidate can legally be refused a lease.
But East Bay landlords should be aware of anti-discrimination laws that protect renters from being turned away for many other reasons. Both the federal and state Fair Housing Acts protect tenants and prospective tenants against housing discrimination.
Federal Housing Discrimination Laws
The federal act states that there cannot be discrimination based on protected classes of race, color, religion, sex, disability, national origin or familial status. Familial status applies to anyone with children under 18 years old or who is pregnant or adopting a child. (view the law here: https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/42/3604).
Many local governments also have fair housing laws, so landlords should get to know what is and is not legal in their area. Call us if you have questions!
California’s Fair Housing Act
For properties in Berkeley, Richmond, Albany and throughout the East Bay, California’s Fair Housing Act extends those protected classes to also prohibit discrimination due to marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, source of income, citizenship, primary language and immigration status
(You can find more information at the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Housing/).
One exception to this rule involves housing for seniors. If you are leasing a unit in a property designed for senior citizens, it is generally legal to exclude children from living at the property.
To avoid claims of discrimination, landlords should make sure that all candidates are consistently reviewed the same way. For instance, if you ask for one person’s social security number, then ask for everyone’s social security number. The same screening requirements have to apply to everyone.
– Jan Feagley
Remember, there can also be claims of reverse discrimination. This means landlords cannot accept someone because they are a protected class, such as of a certain race, if that person does not meet other requirements, like having a good credit report.
These laws help protect renters, meaning that tenants or tenant candidates who feel they have been treated unfairly by a landlord or prospective landlord can seek remedies. Remedies include access to housing that was denied, damages for emotional distress and punitive damages.
To stay out of trouble with rental law, make sure you clearly know the federal, state and local housing laws before you begin your tenant screening process. It is a good idea to seek advice from both a property manager and a real estate attorney if you have specific questions about the laws in your area. We are happy to refer you to some good real estate attorneys in the East Bay.