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April 29, 2009 > Laws protect renters from discrimination

Laws protect renters from discrimination

Submitted By Joyce Joyner

Congress passed the landmark Fair Housing Act in April of 1968. The Fair Housing Act made it illegal to discriminate against people in housing based on their race, color, religion or national origin. In 1974, gender was added as a protected category. Fourteen years later, the Fair Housing Act was amended to include familial status and persons with physical and/or mental disabilities.

Now April is celebrated nationwide as Fair Housing Month.

The Fair Housing Act gives families with children equal access to housing. It is illegal for landlords to refuse to rent to families with children or limit the number and location of units that are available to them.

Under state and federal fair housing laws, overly restrictive occupancy standards have been found to constitute discrimination against families with children. At least two persons per bedroom plus one more person should be allowed: three in a one-bedroom unit, five in a two-bedroom, and so on. This allows a housing provider to limit excessive numbers of residents at the same time it gives families with children an equal opportunity to meet their housing needs.

Those with mental and/or physical disabilities have the right to request reasonable accommodations and modifications. Requests should be submitted to the landlord in writing, along with a doctor's certification that the person has a disability and that the request is consistent with the need associated with the disability. The doctor is not required to reveal the specific nature of the disability.

A reasonable accommodation is a change in rules or policies, such as a closer parking space due to limited mobility or allowing a service animal. A service animal is not considered to be a pet and, therefore, is exempt from "no pet policies" and the landlord cannot request a pet deposit.

A reasonable modification is a change in the physical structure of a home or building (ramp or grab bars) so that the unit is more accessible.

The Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959 is a state law covering housing discrimination. It prohibits discrimination based on age, ancestry, color, disability, national origin, race, religion, sex and sexual orientation. This act has been interpreted by the courts to prohibit discrimination on any arbitrary basis, regardless of whether or not it is enumerated in the Act itself. Factors deemed to be arbitrary include source of income, occupation and sexual orientation.

Eden Council for Hope and Opportunity (ECHO Housing) was founded in 1964. Its services reach over 7,000 clients per year with housing information and assistance. ECHO's primary service component is equal housing access, however, more recent services have been directed to intervention and prevention of homelessness.

ECHO's fair housing program investigates housing discrimination complaints and provides counseling and mediation services throughout Alameda County. ECHO also conducts fair housing workshops for tenants and housing providers. Anyone experiencing housing discrimination can contact staff at (888) 887-ECHO or (510) 581-9380 for a free consultation.

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