Housing Discrimination

The Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) is responsible for enforcing state fair housing laws that make it illegal to discriminate because of a protected characteristic (see “What is Protected”). The law applies to landlords, tenant screening companies, property management companies, 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, and new construction.


What Discrimination Looks Like

California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits those engaged in the housing business – landlords, real estate agents, home sellers, builders, mortgage lenders, among others – from discriminating against tenants or homeowners listed in the section “Who is protected?”

It is also illegal for cities, counties, or other local government agencies to make zoning or land-use decisions, or have policies, that discriminate against individuals based on those traits.

Violations of the anti-discrimination law include the following:

  • Refusal to sell, rent, or lease rooms, apartments, condos or houses to protected individuals
  • Refusal to negotiate for the sale, rental, or lease of housing
  • Representation that a housing accommodation is not available for inspection, sale, or rental when it is in fact available
  • Denial of a home loan or homeowner’s insurance
  • Cancellation or termination of a sale or rental agreement
  • Policies, practices, terms, or conditions that result in unequal access to housing or housing-related services
  • Offering inferior terms, conditions, privileges, facilities or services in connection with the housing accommodation
  • Sexual harassment involving unwanted sexual advances or requiring sexual favors for housing rights or privileges
  • Refusal to permit, at a disabled tenant’s expense, reasonable modifications when necessary to accommodate a disability
  • Refusal 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
  • Retaliation against someone filing a complaint
  • Overly restrictive rules limiting the activities of daily life for families with children, including where children are allowed to play

Full Fair Employment and Housing Act

Fair Chance to Access Housing Video on YouTube

What is Protected

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

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

*Covered under the Unruh Civil Rights Act, which applies to most housing accommodations in California.

Housing designed for seniors:

Housing designed to meet the physical and/or social needs of senior citizens, and in compliance with California laws governing senior housing, may exclude households with minor children. Similar provisions are provided for senior citizen mobile home parks under federal fair housing laws.

Available Remedies

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

FAQ

What housing is covered by the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)?

The FEHA covers the sale or rental of most housing accommodations, including homes, condominiums, apartments, mobile home parks, group homes and shelters. Housing accommodation owners (including the state), managing agents, real estate brokers, mortgage lenders and homeowners associations also are covered. FEHA does not cover: (a) Refusal to rent a portion of an owner-occupied single-family house to a roomer or boarder when only one roomer or boarder is to live in the household and the owner does not publish any discriminatory notices, statements, or advertisements; and (b) stating or implying that housing is available only to persons of one sex, where sharing of living areas in a single dwelling is involved.

Must I be a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident to file a complaint of housing discrimination?

No. The FEHA applies to California tenants and applicants regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. DFEH does not inquire about a complainant’s citizenship or immigration status.

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 an alleged discriminatory act occurred.

If I already filed a complaint with the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), can I also file with DFEH?

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

How does a person file a complaint of housing discrimination?

Start by filing an “Intake Form” You can find that form using any of the following methods:

  • Online by creating an account and using our interactive California Civil Rights System, CCRS. 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 Intake Form form that matches your issue and send it:

How does DFEH conduct an investigation?

DFEH gathers evidence to determine if a complainant’s allegations can be proven. The individual filing the complaint is the complainant, and the housing provider is the respondent. The investigative 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. DFEH 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.

How long does DFEH retain investigative records?

DFEH retains records for 3 years after a case is closed.

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 DFEH before filing a complaint in court?

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

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

DFEH 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 another protected basis.

DFEH can help with: DFEH 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 tenants because of their race
  • list item
  • 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 DFEH 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 lenders. However, if residential predatory lending has occurred because of discrimination against a protected category covered by FEHA, DFEH has jurisdiction and should be able to assist those aggrieved borrowers.

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 to 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
  • 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 the rental 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 for the person 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). Because accessible parking spaces are accommodations, not modifications, the landlord/HOA is required to pay for the costs associated with providing accessible parking.

However, federally assisted housing providers must pay for disability-related reasonable modifications. Please see HUD.gov for more information.

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, the provider 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.


Communication Center: 800-884-1684 (voice), 800-700-2320 (TTY) or
California's Relay Service at 711 | contact.center@dfeh.ca.gov