Fair Housing Tip of the Month

 

 

 

  • Tip #1  - Requests for Reasonable Accommodations

  • Tip #2  - Reasonable Accommodation and Foreclosure

  • Tip #3  - Medical Marijuana as a Reasonable Accommodation

  • Tip #4  - Discrimination Based on National Origin

  • Tip #5  - Answering Questions from Prospective Landlords

  • Tip #6  - Breaking a Lease as a Reasonable Accommodation

  • Tip #7  - Religious Discrimination

  • Tip #8  - Dealing With a Negative Tenant History

  • Tip #9  - Emotional Support Animals

  • Tip #10  - Ethnic Discrimination

  • Tip #11  - Direct Threats from Residents

  • Tip #12  - Eviction Rights

  • Tip #13  - Hostile Environment

  • Tip #14  - Domestic Violence and Fair Housing

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Fair Housing laws prohibit discrimination in housing based on the following characteristics: Race, religion, national origin, color, sex, marital status*, ancestry*, familial status, disability, sexual orientation*, source of income.*

* Indicates a prohibited basis for discrimination in California, but not under federal law.

Disclaimer: The Fair Housing Tip of the Month program is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. If you have a legal question, please contact MHAS or another attorney of your choice.

The Fair Housing Tip of the Month is funded by a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Housing & Urban Development Fair Housing Initiatives Program (Grant #FH400G10022).

Tip #1  Requests for Reasonable Accommodations 

“I live in a large apartment building, and the rule is that we can only enter and exit through the front door.  There are frequently a lot of people around the front door, and because of my disability it makes me really uncomfortable to be near all those people when I come and go.  I have missed appointments because I am too scared to leave my home because of having to go through the front door and run into strange people.  I asked the management if I could go through the back door, and they said no.  What should I do?” 

The law says:  Fair housing laws require that housing providers make exceptions to rules when they are both reasonable and necessary to allow a person with a disability to live in housing.  These exceptions are called “reasonable accommodations.”  The law is that a tenant must request the accommodation and show that his disability makes it necessary, and the landlord must grant the request, unless it is too difficult or expensive (called an “undue burden”) or it would be completely outside the normal course of business (called a “fundamental alteration”).  

What to do:  Explain to your building’s management that you have a disability that makes it extremely unsettling to have to pass by people at the front door.  Ask for permission to use the back or side door, as a reasonable accommodation.  It is a good idea to put the request in writing, with the date and your signature.  The management might ask for a letter from your healthcare or service provider confirming that you have a disability that makes it difficult to be around people.  If the management denies your request, find out why, and try to work with the management to find an accommodation that works for both of you.  Management might have legitimate safety concerns for not using the back door.  Look for creative solutions that will allay management’s concerns and meet your own needs at the same time.  

If you can’t come to a resolution that is acceptable to both of you, and you think your housing provider is not working with you in good faith to find a workable solution, you may file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #2 Reasonable Accommodation and Foreclosure 

“My landlord is in foreclosure because he couldn’t keep up with his mortgage payments.  I’m scared about having to move because I have a serious disability that makes looking for a new home very difficult.  Can I request extra time as a reasonable accommodation?  How much time do I have?  What are my rights?”

The law says:  In 2009, Congress passed the federal Protecting Tenants in Foreclosure Act (PTFA) to give tenants living in foreclosed properties extra time to find a new place to live.  Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous people who will misrepresent the law to deprive tenants of these rights in order to get them out of their property quickly.  Sometimes a tenant receives a notice from the bank or new owner that misstates the law, and orders the tenant out within 3 days.  It is very important, therefore, to understand your rights as a tenant in foreclosure. 

Under the PTFA, if you have a lease and continue to pay your rent, the new owner cannot evict you until after your lease expires, unless he plans to move in and occupy your unit himself, in which case he must give you at least 90 days notice.  If you have a month-to-month lease, the new owner can give you 90 days notice, as well, regardless of who will live there.  If you fail to pay your rent, or commit a breach of the lease, you could still be evicted with a 3-day notice, as you could even if the property had not been foreclosed.   

Even after a foreclosure, fair housing law still demands that the new landlord consider a request for an accommodation, and grant the requested accommodation if it is reasonable.  A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules or procedures to allow a person with a disability equal access to a housing opportunity.  It must be necessary because of the disability, and it cannot pose an undue burden on the landlord (whoever owns the property). 

What to do:  If you cannot leave within 90 days due to your disability, you may request an extension as a reasonable accommodation.  You could argue that you need the extra time because you simply cannot find another place within 90 days due to your disability making it extremely difficult to look for housing, or due to your disability making it necessary for you to find a very specific kind of housing (such as wheelchair accessible housing.  Perhaps you were hospitalized and didn’t learn of the foreclosure until only a month before you needed to vacate, and that is why you need additional time.  The new owner, however, might respond that such a request is not reasonable, as waiting to sell the property involves a greater expense than the landlord can reasonably be expected to bear.  A request for extra time may or may not be granted.  If the new owner does not grant you the extra time you require to move, you may file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #3  Medical Marijuana as a Reasonable Accommodation 

“I have a prescription for medical marijuana to help me with a physical disability.  Recently I heard my landlord telling a neighbor that she hates marijuana smokers, and I am scared I’ll be evicted if I use it.  My friend said if I use medical marijuana to help with a disability, the law requires the landlord to allow me to use it.  Is this true?”

The law says:  Your landlord does NOT have to allow you to use medical marijuana under current law.  Usually, a landlord is required to allow changes to rules and policies to enable a person with a disability to live in a unit, if those changes are necessary based on the person’s disability, and if the changes are reasonable.  These changes to the rules are called “reasonable accommodations.”  People have requested that landlords allow the use of medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation, but so far the law does not support a tenant’s right to use medical marijuana in his housing as a reasonable accommodation.  This is because marijuana remains a controlled substance under federal law, and it is not likely to be considered reasonable to force a landlord to accept something that is illegal under federal law even if the state has approved its use. 

What to do:  If your landlord objects to allowing the use of medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation, you can still file a complaint with your local fair housing enforcement agency, or the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).  Most likely, however, your complaint will not lead to any enforcement against the landlord, but DFEH welcomes people to submit such complaints because the law is still developing in this area. 

If you are living in federally subsidized housing, it may be helpful to know that while the federal nondiscrimination laws do not require public housing authorities to allow medical marijuana as a reasonable accommodation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a memo in January 2011 stating that public housing authorities have the discretion to evict or refrain from evicting a person who is using medical marijuana.  That means that the use of medical marijuana may lead to the loss of your housing but the decision is up to the individual housing authority.

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or visit: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm.

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Tip #4  Discrimination Based on National Origin 

“I have been in this country for five years now and English is not my first language.  Currently I am looking for a new apartment.  Every time I call to ask about  a ‘For Rent’ ad, the landlord tells me it is already rented.  As an experiment, I asked a co-worker who speaks without an accent to call one of the numbers, after I had already been told the apartment was rented.  My co-worker was told the unit was available and given an appointment to look at the unit.  Am I being discriminated against because of my accent? Is this legal?  What can I do?” 

The law says:  It is likely that you are experiencing discrimination based on national origin, and this is not legal.  When a landlord tells a prospective renter that a unit is not available after hearing the person’s voice, when the unit actually is available (as appears to be the case here), the landlord is likely discriminating against you based on your accent, or possibly your name.  Discrimination on the basis of national origin or ethnicity is illegal.  Other forms of discrimination based on national origin or ethnicity include requesting an applicant’s social security number, passport, or birth certificate (if these are not requested for all applicants), or stating that the applicant might be more comfortable in another area of town. 

What to do:  If you think you are experiencing housing discrimination, you may file a discrimination complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  One of these agencies may be able to negotiate with the landlord to allow you to live in that specific unit or a similar one.  Also, a landlord may face a penalty for practicing housing discrimination.

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #5 Answering Questions from Prospective Landlords 

“What should I do if I’m applying for housing and a landlord asks me if I have ever been treated for a mental illness?  Do I have to give him personal information like this?”

The law says:  You do not have to answer this question.  In fact, a landlord who asks you questions about your mental health is violating federal and state fair housing laws.  Fair housing laws make it illegal for a landlord to ask questions aimed at learning about someone’s disability.  Other topics that are illegal for a landlord to ask about include your race, color, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, marital status, source of income, physical disability, ancestry or sexual orientation.

What to do:  One response to such an illegal question would be to redirect the inquiry. You might say, “That’s private information.  I’d be happy to answer any questions related to my appropriateness as a tenant.”  If a landlord persists in attempting to illegally get information from you, you can file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

Exception:  There are housing programs that provide housing for people with disabilities, or for people with specific disabilities.  If you apply for housing through one of these programs, the landlord is allowed to ask whether you qualify.  For example, if you apply for housing for people with disabilities, the landlord may ask if you have a disability, but he may not ask you what particular disability you have.  If you apply for Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA), the landlord may ask if you have AIDS, but he may not ask your T-cell count. 

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #6 Breaking a Lease as a Reasonable Accommodation 

“I moved in to my apartment six months ago after signing a one-year lease.  Over the last several weeks, my mental disability worsened a lot, primarily because of the stress caused by my upstairs neighbors, who play loud music late into the night.  When I complain to the manager, he just tells them I complained and then they threaten me.  They are very menacing, and I believe they have vandalized my car.  I am afraid to call the police, and I don’t think I can continue living here.  My psychiatrist tells me I need to get out for my mental health, but I can’t afford to break my lease.  What can I do?” 

The law says:  Fair housing laws support the right of a tenant with a disability to break a lease term early and avoid the financial penalty usually incurred for the premature termination of the lease, when it is necessary to do so for reasons directly related to disability.  This is a common example of a reasonable accommodation, or change in rules to allow a person with a disability equal access to housing.   

What to do:  In this situation, you will probably need a letter from your psychiatrist explaining that the current situation is harmful to your mental health and that, because of your mental disability, it is necessary for you to be allowed out of your lease early.  If your landlord refuses to accept this request for reasonable accommodation, you may want to contact an attorney or file a complaint with a local fair housing enforcement agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #7  Religious Discrimination 

“My landlord recently came in to my unit to make repairs and he got angry when he saw a religious altar.  He told me to take it down, and he was really rude.  Does he have a right to tell me what I can have in my own home?”

The law says:  A landlord cannot control the religious practices of his tenants, as long as these practices do not interfere with the rights of other tenants or violate other laws.  To order a tenant to take down any religious altar, symbols or artwork is a form of religious discrimination, and as such is prohibited by fair housing laws.  Other forms of religious discrimination include telling tenants they cannot wear religion-related head coverings, preventing tenants from displaying religiously mandated symbols in their doorways, and allowing religious decorations of one religion in common areas while prohibiting the exhibition of other religious decorations. 

The only type of religious discrimination that is permitted is when a building is owned by a religious institution and rents the space only to its own members.  However, the religion cannot be one that restricts membership on account of race, color, or national origin. 

What to do:  If you think you are experiencing discrimination based on your religious beliefs, practices or identity, keep a detailed journal of your interactions with your landlord, including dates and times.  You may file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #8  Dealing With a Negative Tenant History 

“Four years ago I was evicted from an apartment because of some bad behavior that happened when I was in the process of changing medications.  I have been very stable for the last three years, and I am now looking for a new apartment.  I would never repeat those bad behaviors now that I am stabilized.  How can I explain this when I’m applying for housing and a landlord asks about my rental history?” 

The law says:  Landlords are allowed to have a general policy of not renting to people with evictions on their records.  However, fair housing laws require that a landlord be willing to waive specific rules if refusing to waive those rules would effectively bar a person from a dwelling on account of her disability.  Accordingly, while a landlord has a right to assurance that an applicant would be a good tenant, he is expected to allow a person with a disability an alternate means of showing that she would be a good tenant, if a history of disability-based eviction makes that necessary.  A person with a disability applying for housing, therefore, should be given an opportunity to explain any negative information in her tenant history that is caused by a disability, and to request that the strict no-past-evictions policy be waived in her instance as a reasonable accommodation.   

What to do:  Explain your situation to your new landlord.  Explain that your disability caused you to do inappropriate things that led to your eviction, but you are now getting appropriate treatment, so those past actions are unlikely to be repeated.  You might need to provide a letter from a doctor, therapist or social worker to confirm your situation.  It would be especially helpful to provide a letter from your former landlord explaining that you were generally a good tenant with the exception of the disability-related incidents that resulted in your eviction. 

If the landlord still denies you the unit, you can file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #9  Emotional Support Animals 

“My aging mother was widowed last year, and she is still grieving deeply. She has come to live with my family, but she doesn’t want to leave her bed, and she says she doesn’t want to live. My son wants me to get her a cat to lift her spirits, because her mood seems to improve when my son’s friend brings his cat for a visit. But our landlord does not allow pets and I don’t want get evicted.  I hate to see my mother suffer like this.  What can I do?”

The law says:  Your mother may be suffering from depression, which is a very common and treatable form of mental disability.  It is possible that an emotional support animal would help her immensely.  The law recognizes that sometimes a person needs the support of an animal’s presence for her emotional well being, similar to the need of a blind person for a guide dog.  Just as the law demands that a landlord allow a sight- or hearing-impaired tenant to keep a service dog, fair housing laws also recognize that some people with disabilities need emotional support animals.  Emotional support animals do not need to be specially trained, registered, or certified, and they are treated differently than ordinary pets under fair housing law.  While a landlord has a right to a no-pets policy, under fair housing laws a landlord must make an exception and allow an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation to allow a person with a disability to maintain to her housing when necessary (and reasonable).  This is a very common reasonable accommodation. 

What to do:  To get permission for your mother to keep a cat, take her to a therapist to get an assessment.  If the therapist agrees that your mother is depressed, ask the therapist to write a letter stating that your mother is being treating for a mental disability and it is the therapist’s recommendation that she have a cat live with her for emotional support.  Then write a letter of your own, signed and dated, requesting that the landlord allow your mother to keep an emotional support animal as a reasonable accommodation pursuant to fair housing laws.  Keep a copy of the letter for your own records. 

If your landlord refuses your request, you may file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #10  Ethnic Discrimination 

“Ever since my building’s management changed last year, tenants who are not of the same ethnic group as the management are being evicted or harassed into leaving, and only people of that specific ethnic group are being accepted as new tenants.  Is this legal?” 

The law says:  No, it is not legal to purposefully fill a building with one specific ethnic group.  To do so is a form of discrimination based on race and/or national origin, which is illegal.  Furthermore, it is also illegal to evict, harass, or deny housing to anyone based on his or her color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, ancestry, familial status, source of income, or disability.   

What to do: You may file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). 

If you are afraid to file a complaint for fear of retaliation, you could wait until you move out to file a complaint.  Retaliation is illegal, but it does happen.  Or, you may want to ask a number of current or former tenants to file complaints at the same time to reduce the risk of retaliation.

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #11  Direct Threats from Residents 

“A few weeks ago I had a bad reaction to a new medication and did some disruptive things at my apartment complex.  Apparently, I was ranting and raving and I smashed a window and threatened to kill a neighbor.  I was hospitalized for a few weeks, and now they are threatening to evict me for my behavior.  I really didn’t mean to harm anyone, and I’ve never done this before.  What can I do?” 

The law says:  Generally, a landlord has the right to evict a tenant whose behavior disrupts the peaceful enjoyment of his neighbors or threatens their safety.  However, fair housing laws demand that, if the tenant can show that the behavior was related to his disability and is unlikely to occur again, the landlord must allow him to stay.  This is because fair housing laws mandate that, before an individual can be evicted for threatening behavior caused by his disability, the landlord must consider whether there is a reasonable accommodation that would allow the tenant to remain in his unit safely.  Reasonable accommodations are changes in the rules or regulations that are necessary to allow someone with a disability equal access to a housing opportunity.   

For example, if your behavior was related to a mental disability, and you can show that the behavior was directly related to the disability and that the treatment you have started makes it unlikely that you will repeat the behavior, you can argue that an eviction based on the incident would effectively be an eviction based on your disability.   

What to do:  Explain to your landlord that your behavior was directly related to your disability, and develop a plan to prevent a recurrence of the offending behavior.  Such a plan might include returning to a previous medication, or staying with friends or family while adjusting to new medications.  Your landlord will likely request that you provide a letter from your mental health professional confirming that you need the accommodation because of your disability, and explaining the plan to prevent you from repeating the offending behavior.  Your letter does not need to provide specifics about your diagnosis or the medications you take. 

If you have spoken to your landlord and provided the requested documentation, but your landlord refuses your request, you may want to contact an attorney or file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #12  Eviction Rights 

“I live in a residential hotel, and I’ve been here for over a year. I was hospitalized recently at a mental hospital, and when I got home the resident manager told me I have to be out by tomorrow at noon.   Can he do this?  What should I do?” 

The law says:  Whether you live in a residential hotel,* a sober living house, a transitional housing program,** or a standard apartment building, you are a tenant, and you can be legally evicted only through certain specific procedures, all of which take more than one day.  Furthermore, when a tenant is given sudden notice of an eviction shortly after the landlord learns of a psychiatric hospitalization, it raises the suspicion that the eviction is based on the person’s disability, and therefore is discriminatory. 

Regarding the eviction, you have the right to remain in your unit until the landlord goes through the unlawful detainer process and has the sheriff remove you.  It may be helpful to inform your landlord of this.  If the landlord proceeds in trying to force you out, it may help to contact the police and have them inform your landlord.  The proper eviction process begins with the landlord issuing the tenant a notice granting a certain amount of time to get out (usually 3, 30, 60 or 90 days, depending on the circumstances), and then filing an “unlawful detainer” complaint against the tenant in court after the notice period expires.  If the landlord wins in court, the sheriff can then give you notice and proceed to lock you out of your home.  Only the sheriff may legally lock you out.  The landlord runs a risk of substantial monetary losses if he chooses to illegally throw you out, change the locks, or cut off your utilities instead of going through the legal eviction process. 

Furthermore, the fact that your landlord has decided to evict you shortly after learning of the psychiatric hospitalization strongly suggests an unlawful discriminatory motive.  Fair housing laws clearly prohibit a landlord from evicting a tenant because the tenant has a mental disability. 

* In California, people living in residential hotels become tenants with tenant rights after they have lived in their units for 30 days or more.  Hotel management is not allowed to make residents move out and re-register before 30 days have expired for the purpose of preventing residents from becoming tenants. 

** If you are residing in a Transitional Housing Program, you may be subject to a different law, called the Transitional Housing Participant Misconduct Act (THPMA), which would allow your housing provider to expedite the process of removing abusive residents and those engaged in misconduct.   

What to do:  You could start by explaining to the landlord that he must follow the legal process if he chooses to evict you.  If that doesn’t resolve the matter, call the police.  While the police will not enforce the law (because it is a civil matter, and not criminal matter), many police departments will respond to such calls from tenants and resolve the matter by informing the landlord of his legal obligation regarding eviction.  If this doesn’t work, try to obtain help from a legal aid office. 

Because this situation suggests a clear violation of your fair housing rights, you may want to file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #13  Hostile Environment 

“My son has autism, and we are the only people in my building from my country.  Our neighbors are extremely rude to us, calling us “crazy,” using ethnic slurs, leaving hostile notes on our door, and mocking my son.  Can I do anything about this other than finding a new place to live?” 

What the law says:  Harassment is a kind of discrimination, and fair housing laws protect people from discrimination even after they move in, whether the discrimination is from the landlord or other tenants.  The situation you describe sounds like discrimination based both on national origin and disability.  When harassment creates an abusive environment, it is said to create a “hostile environment.” A hostile environment is established when a tenant is a member of a protected class (including: race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, family status, disability), the harassment is unwelcome and based on the tenant’s membership in the protected class, and the harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of the living environment. The landlord is obligated to take action that is reasonably calculated to end the harassment. 

What to do:  It is important to inform your landlord in writing of both the harassment and its discriminatory basis, and to keep written notes of each discriminatory incident as it happens.  Your landlord should remind other tenants of their obligations and others’ rights regarding fair housing laws.  If your landlord does nothing to correct the situation, you can seek assistance from a dispute resolution or mediation clinic.  Another option would be to file a complaint with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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Tip #14  Domestic Violence and Fair Housing

“Sometimes my husband hits me and screams loudly.  I always tried to keep quiet because I didn’t want to cause trouble, but some neighbors apparently heard us recently and called the police.  I got a restraining order against my husband, and I am filing for divorce.  I gave a copy of the restraining order to the management to let them know my husband had moved out and was not allowed in the building.  The next day, I got a 3-day notice to move out because of the ‘violent incident.’  What can I do?” 

The law says:  Federal fair housing law has been interpreted to prohibit discrimination against women who are victims of domestic violence because studies have found that women are much more likely to be victims of domestic violence than men.  Furthermore, because women of certain ethnicities are statistically more likely to be victims of domestic violence, discrimination against victims of domestic violence in some instances can also be interpreted as a form of discrimination based on national origin or race. 

Also, if the perpetrator of domestic violence is not currently living in the unit with the victim, and the domestic violence can be documented by a restraining order or police report within the last 180 days, California law prohibits a landlord from terminating a lease based on domestic violence against a tenant, unless the landlord reasonably believes that the perpetrator’s presence is a threat to the other tenants.  

What to do:  If possible, you may want to contact a legal aid attorney or domestic violence clinic to assist you.  You can explain to your landlord that your husband is no longer living in the unit, that you have a restraining order against him that he has not violated, and that evicting you for being the victim of domestic violence in this situation would violate fair housing law and California Code of Civil Procedure 1161.3.  If this does not convince your landlord to retract the eviction notice, you may want to file a complaint with a local fair housing agency, with California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH), or with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

To file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD), call (800) 669-9777, or click here: www.hud.gov/offices/fheo/online-complaint.cfm

To file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment & Housing (DFEH), call (800) 884-1684, or click here: http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/Complaints_FileComplaint.htm

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