Written by attorney Samuel Eugene Spital

What Can I Do About Tenant Discrimination?

For those who feel they have been discriminated against with regards to the rental of property in the form of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sexual preference, sex, marital status, family status, and/or because of a physical disability or mental impairment; you may have a case against the Landlord or Property Manager. This guide helps you understand what to do when confronted with rental discrimination.

I. What civil rights are guaranteed to all tenants?

We can trace back as far as 1776, to our Declaration of Independence, in which certain unalienable rights were guaranteed to all individuals. Later, the Constitution of the United States became the law, and individual states took the lead in the enactment of civil rights legislation. Eventually, Fair Housing Laws were implemented to further advance and protect the civil rights of individuals. Today, the provisions of these laws essentially prohibit discrimination in the rental of property in the form of race, color, religion, national origin, ancestry, age, sexual preference, sex, marital status, family status, and/or because of a physical disability or mental impairment, or otherwise challenged.

Theseprohibitions cover:

  • Any advertisement concerning rentals;

  • The availability, terms, conditions, or privileges of a lease or rental agreement;

  • And, prohibits the owner, manager and/or agents from harassing, evicting, retaliating, or otherwise discriminating against you because of any of these grounds

II. In California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing receives, investigates, and when appropriate, conducts hearings regarding complaints alleging discrimination.

If there is a finding of an unlawful practice, a cease and desist ORDER may be issued against the owner of the rental property, and/or property manager, as well as an ORDER for the payment of actual damages, as well as an administrative fine. Actual damages include, but are not limited to, damages for emotional distress, mental anguish, pain, suffering, inconvenience, the costs of moving, and loss of enjoyment of life. In determining whether and to what extent an administrative fine may be assessed, a determination is made by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing as to whether the owner or property managers are guilty of oppression, fraud, or malice, either expressed or implied.

  • Evidence concerning willful or intentional conduct will be considered; as well as

  • Where the owner has committed multiple violations;

  • There has been a refusal to prevent, or eliminate the discrimination; or,

  • The conduct is without just cause or excuse

III. A tenant may assert these grounds of discrimination in any Unlawful Detainer Complaint filed against the owner, or as an independent basis for a lawsuit by the tenant against the owner, and/or agents of the owner.

In a civil lawsuit, the tenant may sue for a violation of civil rights, as well as bring other claims, such as breach of contract, fraud, intentional and negligent infliction of emotional stress. Many attorneys accept these types of cases on a contingency fee basis, which means they will only charge attorneys' fees if you obtain a recovery.

IV. The U.S. Attorney General announced a major expansion of the Civil Rights Division, of the various Offices of the United States Attorney General to help litigate housing discrimination cases.

If you believe that the owner of a house or apartment will not rent to you, or is evicting you because of a violation of your civil rights you may write or call the nearest office of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing, and/or the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. You should note, however, that the owners of housing for senior citizens do not have to accept families with children.

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