Online Tenant's Guide: Discrimination

It’s okay for you to not like your landlord and, unfortunately, it’s okay for your landlord to not like you. What isn’t okay is discrimination, when someone harms you because of who you are.

The first thing you should know is that the ONLY LEGAL reasons that a landlord can choose not to rent to you are:
  • Poor credit history
  • Credit references that don’t check out
  • A history where you didn’t pay rent or used your property illegally
  • You have a family that exceeds the “persons to space ratio”
If you have any experience with renting, you know that things are slightly more complicated than this list would make it seem. Often, you never hear back from a potential landlord and you’re forced to move on to the next craigslist ad. When the renting market is as competitive as it is in SLO, most of the time when you aren’t offered an apartment it’s because the landlord found a different candidate who was willing to pay more or had a higher credit score. This makes building a discrimination case based on not being offered an apartment complicated.

Those things are the bad news, the good news is that the list of things that aren’t on that list are all things you’re protected from discrimination against, your:
  • Race
  • Immigration status
  • Sexual orientation
  • Married or unmarried
  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • Gender identity
  • Source of income/student
  • Physical/mental disability
…and whether or not you’re associated with people who belong to one of these groups.

What discrimination against these groups looks like is going to be different depending on the person who is doing the discrimination, but some common forms of discrimination include:
  • Refusing to rent to you because of one of the reasons above
  • Harassment
  • Not providing accommodation for a disability (See the Reasonable Accommodations section)
  • Your landlord showing a preference for one tenant over another
    • In our community this is a frequent problem for students as some rentals near Cal Poly try to keep students from renting.
  • Your landlord treats you differently than they treat another renter.
    • This is just one reason it’s important to talk to your neighbors!
  • Retaliation
    • In this context retaliation means your landlord taking action against you for trying to exercise your rights. Rent increases or threatening to call immigration are common forms of retaliation for asking your landlord to make repairs in your unit. Civil Code Section 1942.5 
  • Access barriers
    • An example of an access barrier would be your landlord locking a gate that you need to use to get your apartment. It could also be a landlord who gives a written notice to a blind person.
If you feel like your landlord is discriminating against you, you should take it extremely seriously. The first step is to reach out to the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The main purpose of the DFEH is to settle discrimination disputes. If you prefer not to use them you can also file a Right-to-Sue notice which will allow you to file a lawsuit against your landlord. The DFEH recommends that you only pursue this course of action if you’re able to contact a qualified attorney. There are local groups that would be likely to be able to help you with this type of lawsuit.

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