A Joint Project of The Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County and Santa Barbara County, made possible by CDBG Funding for Fair Housing 

What is Fair Housing?

 

The right of all people to live wherever they choose, to have access to housing (seek, purchase, sell, lease or rent) and enjoy the full use of their homes without unlawful discrimination, interference, coercion, threats or intimidation.

In California, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Civil Rights Act prohibit discrimination in housing advertising, negotiation, sale and during a resident's stay.

California law expands the protections afforded under the Federal law and extends the protections afforded to protected classes. Under California law, it is unlawful for a landlord, managing agent, real estate broker, or salesperson to discriminate against a person or harass a person in a protected class. A property owner cannot make oral or written statements, or use notices or advertisements that indicate any preference, limitation, or discrimination based on a protected class status.

 

Protected Classes

 

Where you came from

•Race or Ethnic Origin, Immigration Status

Who You Are

•Religion, Disability, Gender, Age, Sexuality Orientation

•Relationships to others

•Family size or makeup, children, marital status

What You Do

•Source of Income or Occupational Status

•Or any other arbitrary characteristic or classification

 

Protections for People with Disabilities

Disabilities are impairments that substantially limits a major life activity, for example breathing, walking, or working.

Disabilities can be physical and mental. Some addictions, like alcohol are protected disabilities, while others, like illegal drug addiction, are not.

But behavior of alcoholics and some behavior of people with disabilities is not necessarily protected from discrimination.

 

Often, people with disabilities live with service animals and therapy pets: even a hummingbird feeder can be a protected therapeutic “pet”!

People with disabilities may make "reasonable accomodation" or reasonable modification request at any time. However, they need not always be granted.

After a reasonable accommodation or modification request, housing providers must engage in an “interactive process” to determine if the requested accommodation or modification will fundamentally alter their housing request.  It’s a good idea to document this in writing if you are making the request or engaging in this process.

Reasonable Accomodations

 

Reasonable accommodation requests are any requests for a change in rules, polices, practices, or services when necessary to afford equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.  There are no "magic words" necessary to make a reasonable accommodation request.  But the request should be clear that it is a request for a change in light of a disability.

Common Reasonable Accommodation Requests Include:

Change in parking rules to allow easier access to a dwelling.

Different way to get mail or pay rent to make the process more accessible.

Changing the due date for rent to allow for disability payments to arrive before the rent is due.

Adding a live-in care provider to a lease, allowing that provider to assist a person with disabilities in their necessary daily activities.

Reasonable Modifications

 

Reasonable modification requests are any requests for changes to the structure, fixtures or property when necessary to afford equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling.  There are sldo no "magic words" necessary to make a reasonable modification request.  But the request should be clear that it is a request for a change in light of a disability, and the person making the request must pay for the modification made to the property and pay for its removal when they no longer reside on the property.*

Common Reasonable Modification Requests Include:

Adding guard rails in bathrooms.

Changes to the soundproofing of walls to reduce noise.

Removing carpet to reduce particle build up in the air.

Widening doors to allow for a wheelchair to enter and exit.

*Although tenants are generally responsible for paying the costs of the modifications, this is not the case if the modifications should already be in place. Many apartment complexes that were built for first occupancy after March 13, 1991, do not meet all of the accessibility requirements under the Fair Housing Act. If the apartment complex is not in compliance with the accessibility requirements, the owner of the complex must pay for any modifications that a tenant requests in order to bring the complex into compliance. Furthermore, if the tenant lives at an apartment complex that receives federal funds, the tenant can, in most cases, request that the owner of the apartment complex pay for the modifications, as an accommodation to the tenant

Enforcement and Liability

 

Fair Housing violations can result in lawsuits for monetary damages and are prosecuted in a variety of ways:

•Civil suits with damages and attorneys’ fees

•Dept. of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) investigation and prosecution.

•Housing and Urban Development (HUD) investigation and prosecutin.

•As remedies and defenses to evictions and other matters in Federal and State Courts

•Landlords should be proactive in engaging in the interactive process, especially when a reasonable accomodation or modification request may have been made.  Violations can pile up, and investigators may not inquire until months after a violation is reported.  Multiple violations could be reported before an official notification of investigation or a law suit.

Once a complaint is filed with HUD or the DEFH, the process can take a long time to resolve.