Housing FAQs

Who is covered by the housing part of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)?

The FEHA prohibits discrimination in housing accommodations. This is defined broadly to cover owners of houses or apartments (including the state), managing agents, real estate brokers, mortgage lenders, and others.

How does a person file a complaint of housing discrimination?

Start by filing a “Pre-Complaint Inquiry.” You can find that form using any of the following methods:

  • Use the Department’s online system, which is called Houdini. When you begin, you will see instructions how to open a free account. From then on you can use the service to communicate with DFEH.
  • Call the Communication Center at 800-884-1684 (voice). If you are deaf or hard of hearing, please call 800-884-1684 (voice or 711 relay operator) or 800-700-2320 (TTY)
  • Print and fill out a hard copy of the “Pre-Complaint Inquiry” form that matches your issue and send it:
What are the time limits for filing a complaint of housing discrimination?

In general, a complaint of housing discrimination must be filed within one year from the date that the alleged discriminatory act occurred.

If a person has already filed a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), can he/she also file with the Department?

If a complaint has been filed with HUD, it will automatically be filed with the Department as well. In most instances, HUD will send the complaint to the Department for investigation. If a complaint is filed with the Department and alleges facts that would violate the federal Fair Housing Act, the complaint is automatically filed with HUD, although the Department will investigate.

How does the Department conduct an investigation?

The Department gathers evidence to determine if the complainant’s allegations can be proven. The individual filing the complaint is a complainant, and the housing provider is a respondent. This process includes gathering evidence from both sides, interviewing the parties and witnesses, and reviewing records. An investigation may be conducted on site and/or through telephone interviews. The Department has the authority to take depositions, issue subpoenas and interrogatories and seek temporary restraining orders during the course of its investigation. All evidence gathered is analyzed to determine if a violation of FEHA has occurred.

What remedies are available to persons who file complaints of housing discrimination?

The remedies available for housing discrimination include:

  • Sale or rental of the housing accommodation
  • Elimination of the discriminatory practice
  • Policy changes
  • Reasonable accommodation
  • Out-of-pocket expenses
  • Actual damages, including damages for emotional distress
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney fees and costs
Does a person have to file a housing complaint with the Department before filing a complaint in court?

No. A person may file directly in court without first filing a complaint with the Department. This is different than employment cases, which must first be filed with the Department before a person can file a complaint in court. The time limit for filing in court is two years from the date of the alleged discrimination. If a complaint has been filed with the Department, the two-year time period does not include the time that the Department spent processing the case. If the Department has completed its investigation and found evidence of discriminatory housing practices, the Department’s attorneys will prosecute the case in court on behalf of the Department, and the complainant, who is a real party in interest.

Does the Department help people find housing or resolve landlord/tenant problems connected with their current housing?

The Department does not help people find housing. It can only help resolve landlord/tenant problems that involve discrimination or harassment due to race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, or other protected basis.

The Department can help with: The Department does not help with:
  • Unequal terms or provisions of housing due to any protected basis
  • For example, a landlord who refuses to make repairs for tenants of a certain race
  • Harassment due to any protected basis
  • For example, a landlord who makes unwelcome sexual advances on a tenant or who uses racial slurs and insults to demean a tenant because of his or her race
  • Plumbing, heating, or electrical problems
  • Failure to make repairs
  • Pests or vermin
  • Excessive noise
  • Entry without enough notice
  • Eviction without enough notice
  • Violation of rent-control laws
  • Failure to return security deposit
Does the Department help people resolve problems connected with subprime residential mortgage lending?

Predatory lending is primarily a consumer law issue affecting all borrowers. Consumers can best seek relief under the Unfair Competition Law (UCL) by filing complaints against those businesses with the California Attorney General’s Office,which enforces the UCL. Consumers can also file complaints against residential mortgage lenders with the California Department of Corporations, which licenses and regulates the lenders.However, if residential predatory lending has occurred because of discrimination against a protected category stated in the FEHA, the DFEH has jurisdiction and should be able to assist those aggrieved borrowers.

Families, seniors and those with disabilities

Can a housing provider refuse to rent to families with children?

Generally, a housing provider such as a landlord cannot refuse to rent to an applicant because there are children in the family. The requirements for rental and the terms and conditions must be the same for families with children as for any other applicant or tenant. The one exception to this rule involves housing that has been specifically designed for senior citizens (persons 55 and older in some cases or 62 and older in others). To qualify as “senior housing,” a housing accommodation must meet specific legally defined requirements, which may include a minimum number of units, age-based residency limits and design features.

Is it legal to develop and market housing for seniors?

Yes, but the facility or community must prove that its housing is:

  • Provided under any state or federal program that HUD has determined to be specifically designed and operated to assist elderly persons (as defined in the state or federal program);
  • Designed to meet the physical and social needs of senior citizens; or
  • A mobile home park that:
    • Is intended for, and solely occupied by, people 62 years of age or older; or
    • Is intended and operated for occupancy by persons 55 years of age or older, with at least 80% of the occupied units occupied by at least one person who is 55 or older, and the park publishes and adheres to policies and procedures demonstrating the intent for occupancy by people 55 or older, and the park complies with HUD’s rules for verification of occupancy.
Are tenants or applicants with disabilities entitled to special treatment?

Yes, they are eligible for reasonable accommodations. Although not discriminating usually means treating everyone the same, disability discrimination is different. When necessary for people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to enjoy housing, the housing provider must allow them to make reasonable modifications of the premises and must make reasonable accommodations, meaning changes to rules, practices, and services.

What is a reasonable accommodation?

A reasonable accommodation is a change in the way things are done that helps residents or applicants with disabilities have an equal opportunity to use and enjoy housing, such as changing a policy or rule.

Can Be Reasonable Accommodations Not Reasonable Accommodations
  • Reserved parking spaces
  • Making exceptions to a no-pets policy
  • Changing the deadline to pay rent
  • Allowing a third party to cosign the lease or pay the rent
  • Allowing a live-in aide
  • Delaying eviction
  • Modifying the terms of a lease
  • Reducing the rent
  • Permitting use of illegal drugs (including medicinal marijuana, which is illegal under federal law)
  • Adding an elevator to a building without one
Can a housing provider have a “no pets” rule?

Yes, but the housing provider must make exceptions to the rule, which are called reasonable accommodations, when necessary for people with disabilities to have an equal opportunity to enjoy housing. Refusing to allow necessary service animals or emotional-support animals is illegal discrimination. Service animals and emotional-support animals are not subject to breed, size, or weight restrictions ordinarily applied to pets, and tenants must not be charged pet deposits or pet rent for them.

If a tenant with a disability needs to modify his/her unit, is the housing provider required to pay for the modification?

A reasonable modification is a structural change made to existing premises, interior or exterior, occupied or to be occupied by a person with a disability in order to have full enjoyment of the premises.

In most instances, the tenant is responsible for all costs connected to the modification but a landlord or homeowners association (HOA) cannot refuse to allow a reasonable request. Under certain circumstances the tenant may be required to restore the premises to the condition that existed before the modification (other than for reasonable wear and tear). Parking space requests are accommodations and not modifications and the landlord/HOA is required to pay for these costs.

However, federally assisted housing providers must pay for disability-related reasonable modifications. Here are more details on the federal regulations.

How does a housing provider know when someone really has a disability and needs an accommodation or modification?

If a housing provider is skeptical of a tenant’s alleged disability, he or she can ask the tenant for medical verification of the disability-related need for accommodation or modification. The housing provider is only entitled to verification that the tenant has a disability, not identification of the disability or diagnosis, and that there is an identifiable relationship between the requested accommodation and the individual’s disability.