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California Fair Housing Law

California law has expanded the coverage of fair housing protection in the state by creating codes that include additional protected classes. California uses the terms disabled and disability as opposed to the federal terms of handicap and handicapped. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) and the Unruh Act are the primary fair housing laws of California. One of the most significant differences between the Federal Fair Housing Act and the State of California Fair Housing Laws is that California’s FEHA added the protection of the following classes from discrimination:

  • Ancestry
  • Marital status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Source of income
  • Age
  • Arbitrary (Unruh)

Prohibited Housing Practices

The Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination and harassment in all aspects of housing including:

  • Sales and rentals
  • Evictions
  • Terms and conditions
  • Mortgage loans
  • Insurance
  • Land use and zoning
  • Housing providers are required to make reasonable accommodation in rules and practices to permit individuals with disabilities to use and enjoy a dwelling and make reasonable modifications to the premises
  • Retaliation against any individual who has filed a complaint with the State, participated in a Department investigation or opposed any activity illegal under the Act is prohibited

Unruh Civil Rights Act

This law provides protection against discrimination by businesses, housing and public accommodations in California based on:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Color
  • Disability
  • National Origin
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Source of Income

Ralph Civil Rights Act

The Ralph Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code Sec. 51.7, provides protection from hate crimes. It prohibits violence or threats of violence based on:

  • Age
  • Ancestry
  • Color
  • Disability
  • National Origin
  • Political Affiliation
  • Position in a Labor Dispute
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Sex
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Source of Income

Defintion of Disability

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination in all aspects of housing (rental, lease, terms and conditions, etc.) for persons with disabilities. Disability is defined as:

  • A physical or mental impairment that limits the individual in performing one or more major life activity
  • A record of having, or being perceived as having, a physical or mental impairment. It does not include current illegal use of, or addiction to, a controlled substance (as defined by Sec. 102 of the Federal Controlled Substance Act, 21 U.S.C. Sec.802)

Accessibility Guidelines

All new housing construction consisting of four or more dwelling units must be designed and constructed in a manner that allows access to, and use by, disabled persons.

The basic requirements must include the following features:

  • All covered multi-family dwellings shall have at least one building entrance on an accessible route, unless it is impractical to do so because of the terrain or unusual characteristics of the site. The burden of proof, because of terrain or unusual site characteristics , is on the person or persons who designed the facility
  • All covered multi-family dwellings with at least one building entrance on an accessible route shall be designed and constructed in a manner that complies with all of the following:
    • The public and common areas shall be readily accessible to and usable by handicapped individuals
    • All the doors shall be designed to allow passage into and within the premises and shall be sufficiently wide to allow passage by handicapped individuals in wheelchairs
    • All covered premises shall contain the following adaptable design features:
      • An accessible route into and through the covered dwelling unit
      • Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats, and other environmental controls at accessible locations
      • Reinforcements in bathroom walls to allow later installation of grab bars around the toilet, tub, shower stall and shower seat, where such facilities are not provided
      • Usable kitchens and bathrooms such that individuals in a wheelchair can maneuver comfortably within that space

Use of Service Animals

Individuals with disabilities have the right to use the services of a guide, signal or trained dog (or other such designated animal), and have such animals in or around their unit. No charges or security deposits may be imposed for having a guide, signal or trained animal. Tenants, however, are liable for any damage caused by their animals if there is proof of such damage.

Reasonable Accomodation

At the request of an individual with a disability, a housing provider must make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services to provide the individual equal opportunity to use and enjoy the dwelling.

This includes, but is not limited to:

  • Making an exemption to a “no pet” policy to enable a disabled tenant to have a service animal
  • Changing parking rules to enable a disabled tenant to have parking that meets his/her needs

A housing provider may ask a tenant for medical verification of the need for reasonable accommodation. This is limited to verification that the person is disabled within the meaning of the law and that there is a need for the requested accommodation. However, the housing provider is not entitled to any information about the nature of the disability.

Reasonable Accomodation

A housing provider must allow disabled individuals to reasonably modify existing premises if the modifications are necessary for the enjoyment of the amenities provided within the premises.

The tenant is responsible for the cost of the modification. In some circumstances, a landlord may require that the tenant agree to restore the interior of the premises to the original condition. Examples of reasonable modifications include:

  • Widening doorways
  • Lowering cabinets
  • Installing a wheelchair ramp

Familial Discrimination

The Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination in all aspects of housing (rental, lease, terms and conditions, etc.) because of the presence of children in the household (familial status).

Familial status is defined as having one or more individuals under 18 years of age residing with a parent or another individual having legal custody of that individual (including foster parents) or with a designee of the parent or legal custodian. Familial status also includes pregnant women and individuals in the process of adopting or otherwise securing legal custody of any minor under 18 years of age.

Senior Housing exemption

Housing that meets the legal definition of senior housing are exempt from the provisions of familial status under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.

The three categories of housing that meet this definition are:

  • Housing provided under any state or federal program that the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) determines is specifically designed and operated to assist elderly persons, as defined in the state or federal program
  • Housing that meets the standards for senior housing in Sections 51.2, 51.3 and 51.4 of the Civil Code (Unruh Civil Rights Act)
  • Mobile home parks that meet the standards for “housing for older persons” as defined in the Federal Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 and related regulations

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