Discrimination is a very serious issue especially when it comes to housing. Many federal, state, and local housing laws exist to protect renters from discrimination. Property owners and managers are subject to significant penalties and open themselves up to lawsuits by not complying. Housing providers need to make sure that they and their agents do not use language that can be considered discriminatory in any rental ads or when talking to prospective renters.
Protected classes include race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, and national origin. Many states have additional protections. California prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy, medical condition, mental disabilities, physical disabilites, physical appearance, source of income, immigration status or perception of any of these characteristics.
Housing providers must treat unmarried couples and domestic partners the same as married couples for determining financial qualification to rent an apartment and other policies. Families with children cannot be discriminated against, but there is an exclusion for housing for senior citizens with minimum age restrictions. There is also an exclusion for an owner renting out a room in a home that they also occupy. Someone looking for a roommate can advertise a gender preference if they will share living areas.
A disabled person is allowed to make modifications at their own expense, but can be required to restore the changes when moving out. A companion or service dog is also allowed for disabled people even if a housing provider has a no pets policy.
Different ways that discrimination can occur include not renting to someone, not negociating, claiming that a rental is not available when it is, providing different terms and conditions, and harrasment. Someone who is a victim of discrimination can sue for access to housing, damages for emotional distress, punitive damagaes, and legal fees. Several organizations and government agencies will help resolves discrimination issues, such as local fair housing councils, legal aid organizaions, HUD (http://www.hud.gov/), and in California, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (http://www.dfeh.ca.gov/).
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