State law prohibits discrimination in housing

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state fair housing laws that make it illegal to discriminate because of the categories listed in the box “Who is Protected?” The law applies to landlords, real estate agents, home sellers, builders, mortgage lenders, and others. The law prohibits discrimination in all aspects of the housing business, including:

  • Renting or leasing
  • Sales
  • Mortgage lending and insurance
  • Advertising
  • Practices such as restrictive covenants
  • New construction

Some examples of housing discrimination

When based on the categories listed in the box “Who is Protected,” it is illegal to:

  • Refuse to sell, rent, or lease rooms, apartments, condos or houses
  • Represent that a housing accommodation is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when it is in fact available
  • Deny a home loan or homeowner’s insurance
  • Offer inferior terms, conditions, privileges, facilities or services in connection with the housing accommodation
  • Refuse to permit, at a disabled tenant’s expense, reasonable modifications when necessary to accommodate a disability
  • Refuse to make reasonable accommodations in housing rules, policies, practices, or services where necessary to afford a disabled person equal opportunity to use and enjoy a dwelling
  • Retaliate against someone filing a complaint or asserting their rights under the fair housing law.

Here is a list of more unlawful practices plus more resources.


Housing designed for seniors is exempt

Housing designed to meet the physical and/or social needs of senior citizens is exempt from the law. Housing that meets these requirements can legally exclude households with children. Similar provisions are provided for senior citizen mobile home parks under federal fair housing laws.


Filing a complaint

If you think you have been discriminated against or harassed by a housing provider, you can file a discrimination complaint with the DFEH. The complaint process starts with filling out and filing a form titled “pre-complaint inquiry.” In general, you must submit this form within one year of the last incident of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation.

That sets in motion a series of legally required steps that DFEH must carefully follow. It’s important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

Full step-by-step description of the complaint process

Filing your own lawsuit in court

In housing discrimination cases, an individual has the right to file a lawsuit on his/her own behalf within two years of the alleged discriminatory act. It is not necessary to file a complaint with DFEH before filing a lawsuit or to get a “right-to-sue” letter. If a person does choose to file a complaint with DFEH, the time during which a complaint is pending with DFEH will not be counted when computing the two-year period within which a lawsuit must be filed.

What remedies are available?

State law provides for a variety of remedies for victims of housing discrimination, including:

  • Recovery of out-of-pocket losses.
  • An injunction prohibiting the unlawful practice.
  • Access to housing that the landlord denied you.
  • Damages for emotional distress.
  • Civil penalties or punitive damages.
  • Attorney’s fees.

Here are details on filing a housing complaint and what resources are available.

Respond to a complaint

If you are a housing provider and are served with a complaint, you must provide a response within 30 days unless granted an extension. DFEH may interview you and ask for additional records or documents.

It is important to know that DFEH doesn’t take sides when a complaint is first filed. DFEH screens all initial claims and rejects those that do not allege violations of the laws we enforce.

We investigate the facts and encourage parties to resolve the dispute in appropriate cases.  DFEH considers taking legal action if evidence supports a finding of discrimination and the dispute is not resolved.

Here are details on how to respond.

Who is protected?

California law protects individuals from illegal discrimination by housing providers based on the following:

  • Age
  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion
  • Disability, mental or physical
  • Sex, gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Familial status
  • Source of income

Disability requirements

For details on how housing providers are required to accommodate those with disabilities, click here.

DFEH cooperates with HUD

DFEH may file signed complaints with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) if the matter falls within the jurisdiction of that agency. As a substantially equivalent agency, DFEH’s findings are usually accepted by HUD.