As a landlord, there are certain laws you must follow in California when dealing with tenants. These laws cover everything from communication requirements, to security deposits. Failure to comply could result in major financial consequences for you personally or for your property management company. In the case of antidiscrimination laws, failure to comply may result in a major lawsuit. In order to safeguard your business, it’s important that you understand how you can protect yourself from being accused of discriminating against your current and prospective tenants
All landlords are entitled to vetting new tenants before going into a lease agreement with them. However, there are fair housing laws in place that dictate what you can and can’t do during this process. Specifically, there are protected categories of people that are guarded against being discriminated against for housing. You cannot refuse to rent to someone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, familial status, or because of a physical or mental disability.
You are also not allowed to deny or set different standards for any group of people, but especially those protected under the law. That means that you can’t decide not to rent to someone simply because they have children, or vet them more thoroughly because of their racial background.
If a tenant accuses your of discrimination, they will typically file an official complaint with HUD, a state fair housing agency, or a local agency that oversees these types of complaints. Depending on the agency, there are different time limits within which a complaint must be filed. However, tenants could be allowed up to a year to file a complaint after an incident. What’s more, it may time quite some time for the agency to investigate the complaint, months in some cases.
That means that a fair housing agency could approach you about a tenant or prospective tenant that you dealt with many months earlier. That’s why it’s so important that landlords and property managers keep diligent records of applicants and tenant complaints. Without proof that you treated your accuser in the same manner as you would anyone else, you may find yourself paying out a hefty settlement.
In some cases, your discrimination case may even end up in court. If you lose a discrimination case in federal court, you could be made to pay damages to your accuser including any costs they incurred having to rent from someone else and for the emotional stress they went through as a result of your discrimination. On top of that, the courts may require you to pay penalties in the tens of thousands.
As a landlord, an accusation of discrimination can be devastating to your personally or to your business. That’s why it’s so important to seek the help of a skilled landlord attorney as soon as an accusation occurs. At Derryberry & Associates, we help many landlords fight wrongful accusations of discrimination each year.