Under Federal law, it is illegal for a landlord to arbitrarily discriminate against a protected class. In California, such discrimination is an affirmative defense in an unlawful detainer (eviction) case.
The Fair Employment and Housing Act -FEHA
Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) it illegal to discriminate against any person based on any of the following protected classes:
- Sexual Orientation
- Marital Status
- National Origin
- Familial Status\*
- Source of Income
\*_Disability_ - Disability includes but is not limited to both physical and mental disabilities
\*_Familial Status_ - Familial status means that one or more minors live with the discriminated individual, or that individual is pregnant, or is in the process of securing legal care of a minor.
Acts constituting illegal discrimination
Acts constituting illegal housing discrimination include but are not limited to:
- Asking a perspective tenant if they are a member of a protected class;
- Advertising housing that states a discriminatory preference;
- Refusing to rent to a person based on membership in a protected class;
- Refusing to allow a disabled person to make reasonable modifications to the premises at their own expense
Owner occupied exception
When a Landlord rents space in an owner-occupied single family dwelling, to no more than one individual, then that owner may choose to not rent to any person based on any characteristic. However, it is still illegal to state a discriminatory preference in any rental advertisement - with the one exception of the right to advertise a preference for male or female.
Discrimination based on economic status
Remember that economic status is not a protected class. Thus a landlord may discriminate based on income and/or credit history. However, a landlord may be in violation of federal and state discrimination laws if he/she have different financial standards for different members of a protected class.