This article was posted on Sunday, May 01, 2016

QUESTION: I have a policy of charging new tenants a security deposit equal to one month’s rent.  If a tenant has children, I add $50 extra per child to the security deposit since kids usually cause more damage than normal.  Is this legal?
ANSWER:  No.  A landlord cannot require a higher security deposit or damage deposit from people who have minor children than from people without minor children.  According to the California Supreme Court in Wolfson and the Federal Fair Housing Law amended in 1988, it is unlawful to set deposits based on the stereotype that children as a class cause more damage to property than others.

QUESTION: I have a two-story apartment building and I don’t rent apartments above the first floor to people with small children.  I’m afraid that small children could fall off the balcony and I may get sued.  Is this legal?
ANSWER:  No.  You cannot deny someone the opportunity to rent a unit just because they have children.

QUESTION: The apartment building I own is in an area where most people speak Spanish.  Is it legal to place a “For Rent” sign in the front of the building that’s only in Spanish?
ANSWER:  No.  If you advertise your vacancy in Spanish, you must also advertise it in English.

QUESTION: I recently placed an advertisement for a vacant unit that read “A great building for single professionals.”  Was this legal?
ANSWER: It is illegal to advertise in a manner that states or suggests a preference.  The advertisement you placed discourages families with children from applying to rent your vacant unit.  It also discourages married couples and partnered couples from applying for your vacant unit.

QUESTION: I recently found out that the on-site manager of the building I own has been harassing the female tenants.  Am I legally liable for this?
ANSWER: Yes.  As the owner of the building, you are legally responsible for the actions of your management personnel, maintenance staff, and any other agents you employ.  Under both federal and state fair housing laws, sexual harassment of tenants is illegal.

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QUESTION: A disabled tenant at one of my apartment buildings wants to install a ramp.  Do I have to let her do this?
ANSWER:  Under the fair housing laws, a disabled tenant can request a reasonable modification, which is a change in the physical structure of a building.  If the modification is required to give the disabled tenant full use and enjoyment of her unit, then you must grant the request.  However, in most cases the tenant is responsible to cover the cost of the modification.

QUESTION: I recently rented a unit to someone who had some problems with his credit report.  I had a second applicant with better credit, but I really liked the first applicant because we had a great conversation about sports.  Did I make the right decision?
ANSWER:  As a landlord, it is extremely important that you apply your rental policies and standards in an equal manner.  If you have a policy of renting to the applicant with the best credit, then you should follow this policy at all times.  Avoid making exceptions to the rule.  It could come back to haunt you if the exception you make favors one group over another.

QUESTION: I have a “No Pets” policy at all the apartment buildings I own.  I recently had a visually impaired tenant who needed a seeing eye dog apply for a unit.  I turned her away because we do not allow pets.  Was this legal?
ANSWER:  No.  If a disabled tenant requires the use of a service animal then you must grant her an exemption to the “No Pet” policy.  The tenant’s use and enjoyment of her home would clearly be adversely affected if she wasn’t allowed to have her seeing-eye dog.  However, this does not mean that your “No Pet” policy must be suspended for your non-disabled tenants.

QUESTION: Last month, one of my tenants had his girlfriend move into his apartment.  I gave them notice that I was going to add $50 to their monthly rent.  Is that legal?
ANSWER:  Yes.  If the total number of occupants increases or exceeds the number originally agreed upon in the rental or lease agreement, a landlord may charge reasonable additional rent (often referred to as a surcharge), depending on the circumstances.  This would be dependant on applicable rent control ordinances.  Most important is the intent behind the surcharge, and that it be tied in a reasonable way to the additional use of utilities and other services.

QUESTION: I just received a rental application for a two-bedroom unit from a family of four:  two adults and two children.  One of the children is a boy and the other is a girl.  I turned them down because I think the children should each have a separate room since they are different sexes.  Was that legal?
ANSWER: No.  You cannot require that children of opposite sexes have separate bedrooms.  These decisions are within the parents’ control and not the landlord’s.

Reprinted with permission of the Housing Rights Center.  For more information, visit, call 800-477-5977 or email [email protected]