Disability Status and Source of Income

This is the ninth episode in our new video series covering Implicit Bias principles, and provides a sneak peek into our new DRE-approved continuing education (CE)  requirements that apply to real estate agents and brokers with licenses expiring on or after January 1, 2023.

This episode covers fighting discrimination in disability status and a tenant’s source of income. The prior episode covers taking the extra steps to help historically marginalized buyers qualify for a mortgage. 

Avoiding the top fair housing complaints

As gatekeepers to homeownership, real estate brokers and agents are in a prime position to help close the homeownership gap and ensure quality rental housing for historically marginalized groups.

One of the biggest errors when trying to even the playing field for all groups is to claim to be blind to all differences (e.g. “color blindness”).

A more effective approach recognizes and honors the differences in others, creating empathy

.

With greater understanding, individuals may become aware of their own biases, discard stereotypes and embrace the unique backgrounds and experiences of each individual.

The highest number of fair housing complaints received each year in California — by far — are in regard to disability status. [Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). (2022) 2020 Annual Report.]

California law defines disability

as a mental or physical impairment, disorder or condition that limits a major life activity, such as working, physical and social activities. This includes medical diagnoses like HIV/AIDs and cancer. [Calif. Government Code §12926.1(c)]

For example, consider a disabled rental applicant who requires the use of a service dog — but the rental unit they are applying for does not allow pets. Even though the no-pet rule applies to all tenants and is not on its face discriminatory, the landlord may not refuse to rent a unit to a tenant on the basis that they are disabled and use a:

  • guide dog, a seeing-eye dog trained by a licensed individual to aid a blind person;
  • signal dog, trained to alert a deaf or hearing-impaired person to intruders or sounds; or
  • service dog, trained to aid a physically disabled person with protection work, pulling a wheelchair or fetching dropped items. [Calif. Civil Code 54.1(b)(6)]

Further, landlords may not charge additional rent or security deposit to tenants with authorized service, guide or signal dogs. [CC §54.2(a)]

Related article:

New California law requires landlords of low-income rental housing to allow pets

Equal opportunity denied

A landlord who refuses to make reasonable accommodations to afford a person with disabilities an equal opportunity to use and enjoy their housing — such as through denying them housing due to their use of a service dog — is guilty of practicing unlawful discrimination. When the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) investigates and finds the landlord practiced unlawful discrimination, the DFEH may require the landlord to:

  • provide housing that was previously denied;
  • pay monetary compensation for any losses or even emotional distress;
  • undergo mandatory one-time or regular training to prevent future discriminatory acts;
  • pay fees, penalties, fines; and
  • undergo monitoring to avoid future discrimination. [Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). (2020) Disability Discrimination Fact Sheet.]

Another discriminatory activity for which the DFEH receives a high number of complaints is discrimination based on source of income

.

As of 2020, government housing vouchers — such as Section 8 vouchers

— are considered a tenant’s source of income in California, and thus are a protected status. In other words, California landlords may not choose to deny housing to a tenant based on their use of housing vouchers. Further, due to the tenant’s source of income, the landlords may not:

  • advertise a preference or limitation for certain sources of income;
  • refuse an application;
  • charge a higher deposit or rent;
  • treat the tenant differently in any way;
  • refuse to renew the lease;
  • terminate the tenancy;
  • lie about the availability of a unit;
  • require additional conditions or rules on the tenancy; or
  • restrict the tenant’s access to property facilities or services. [Gov C §12927]

Tenants or applicants who believe they have been discriminated against may file a complaint with the DFEH. The DFEH will investigate and attempt to resolve the complaint. However, when the complaint cannot be resolved, the DFEH may file a lawsuit against the landlord to seek monetary relief.

Related article:

Letter to the editor: How does a landlord enforce a Section 8 contract?

Editor’s note – firsttuesday was one of the first schools in California to obtain DRE-approval for the new implicit bias training and expanded Fair Housing course.

To enroll, visit the order page.

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