Below are some situations encountered by Fair Housing, (Project Sentinel) that will communicate valuable information about the rights and obligations of tenants and landlords.
Question: I am a property manager for a large, multi-unit complex. About three months ago, a couple with two children, ages 3 and 7, moved in to a first floor unit in my complex. They seem to be a nice family, and I haven’t had any problems myself with them. The tenant that lives in the adjoining apartment, a retired 74 year old tenant who has lived in her unit for 10 years, has made several complaints about the family this new family.
She claims that they make too much noise, that they leave toys all over the yard, and that the parents do not properly discipline or supervise the children. In her last complaint, she even demanded that I evict the family. I have talked to the family, and they claim that they are not making excessive noise. They say that their children laugh and squeal when they play sometimes, but no more than kids normally do. Moreover, they told me that their elderly neighbor has confiscated some of their children’s toys and yelled at the children when they were playing in the front yard. In addition, I haven’t had any other tenants complain about the family making too much noise. I don’t know what to do – I value this long term tenant and don’t want to lose her. I also know, though, that the Fair Housing laws protect families with children from discrimination, and I don’t want to get in trouble by giving the family a notice. What should I do?
Answer: It’s always challenging when two of your tenants don’t get along, but you are right to be concerned about whether there might be some familial status discrimination issues here. The Fair Housing laws protect families with children from discrimination in the terms and conditions of their housing, and this includes protection against harassment by other tenants or the management related to their children. The challenge for you as the manager is determining who is being unreasonable here: is the family making an unreasonable amount of noise, or is the elderly neighbor being unreasonably intolerant of the noises children naturally make? This might depend on the age of the children, the time of day the noises occur, the activities generating the noise, and whether other neighbors are complaining as well. Regardless of the noise, the neighbor’s actions here in confiscating the toys and yelling at the kids are the kind of harassing behavior that presents a real problem for you, and you have a responsibility as a housing provider with knowledge of the harassment to do something to stop it—otherwise, you may be liable for violating the Fair Housing laws.
Unrelated Roommates Not Welcome
Question: I am just out of college and have a job working as a receptionist at a nonprofit agency—in other words, I don’t make much money. One friend from college and another friend I met at work have decided to try and find an apartment together because none of us can afford to rent an apartment on our own. Pooling our salaries, though, we make more than enough to meet the minimum income standards of most of the three bedroom apartments in our area. We are having a hard time finding an apartment, though: one of the places we applied told us that the owner preferred to rent to married couples because they are “more stable”, another told us that unless two of us were married, each one of us would have to individually meet the minimum income requirements, and a third landlord told us that he prefers to rent to “conventional families” rather than “random groups of unrelated people.” Is this legal?
Answer: Not in California. Under California Fair Housing law, housing providers may not discriminate based on marital status. This means that a housing provider cannot prefer married couples over unrelated roommates, such as you and your friends, nor may they treat married couples and unrelated roommates differently in rental qualifications or terms. While a housing provider is entitled to decide what the minimum income tenants must have to qualify to rent an apartment, they must apply that standard consistently to all applicants. If the housing provider evaluates a married couple’s financial qualifications by looking at both spouse’s incomes collectively, they must do the same thing in evaluating the qualification of unrelated roommates.
Criminal History Ban
Question: I am a 32 year old Latino male, and I am having a hard time finding housing. I was a little wild when I was younger and I have an 8 year-old conviction for possession of marijuana and a 5 year old arrest for shoplifting, but the shoplifting charge was ultimately dismissed. I applied for an apartment last week, though, and after they ran a background check on me they told me that they have a policy against renting to people with any sort of criminal history. Is this okay? I haven’t had any trouble with the law since the shoplifting arrest and have a steady job now.
Answer: According to guidance issued by the Office of General Counsel for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in April of 2016, this is probably not okay. Housing providers may not consider arrests alone at all in deciding whether to rent to a prospective tenant, and may only consider criminal convictions if they are directly and specifically related to the applicant’s ability to be a good tenant. This means that a blanket ban—a policy of not renting to someone with any sort of criminal history, regardless of when the conviction happened or what the conviction was for, most likely violates the Fair Housing laws. Rather, the housing provider must consider the particular circumstances of the conviction, including how long ago it occurred, whether the nature of the crime suggests that the applicant poses a direct threat to the property or other tenants, and whether there are mitigating circumstances that show that the applicant is no longer likely to pose a threat to other tenants. In your case, the housing provider should not even consider your arrest for shoplifting, and your conviction for possession of marijuana is both too old to be relevant to your current ability to be a good tenant, and is also arguably not the kind of crime that suggests you pose a direct threat to other tenants.
What Eviction on My Record?
I moved out of my old place before the eviction but was still blacklisted by another landlord. Can he do that now that AB-2819 passed?
Question: In 2015, we were renting a house and gave a 30 day notice to move out before the lease ended. We did not pay the last month’s rent. After reading several Yelp reviews about our property manager not refunding security deposits, we decided to let them keep our deposit, equal to one month’s rent. Two weeks later, we got a letter from our landlord that an “unlawful detainer complaint” was filed against us, so we moved out immediately. I knew that because we had not been served with a summons yet, they could not get a judgment against us. However, when I applied to rent an apartment recently, my application was denied because “there was an eviction on my record.” But there is no eviction listed on my credit report. How can that be?
Answer: Landlords can screen applicants for past evictions by checking credit reports and also by checking court records. Only judgments are listed on credit reports, but court records can show if a case was filed against you, even if there was no judgment. Many landlords will not rent to someone with any “unlawful detainer” (UD) activity on their record. A UD is the legal term for the landlord’s lawsuit to regain possession of a rental unit. Most people call this process an eviction. A landlord may legally factor such information in his decision on whether to rent to a prospective tenant.
However, what happened to you will be avoided in the future because of a new state law that went into effect on January 1, 2017. The new law (AB-2819) makes UD court records permanently unavailable for public access, also known as “masking” from public view, unless the landlord obtains a judgment. In cases like yours, where a complaint is filed in court, but never served on the tenant, or in cases where the tenant moves out before trial and the landlord does not bother to seek a judgment, the records will be sealed and the tenants’ names will no longer be blacklisted on “UD registries.” Unfortunately, the new law will not help you unless it is subsequently amended to allow UD records from before 2017 to be sealed according to the same requirements as AB-2819.
Rent Watch – Project Sentinel is a non-profit agency providing services to help people resolve housing problems. The agency assists home seekers as well as housing providers through counseling, complaint investigation, mediation, conciliation and education. The services are funded by cities and counties in the greater Bay Area and Central Valley. All services are free and confidential. For more information, call (888) 324-7468; email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the website at www.housing.org, Reprinted with permission.