This is the first episode in our new video series covering state and federal fair housing laws. This episode introduces the Civil Rights Act and the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA).

Property rights cannot be based on status

Regardless of race, all citizens of the United States have the right to purchase or rent real estate under the federal Civil Rights Act. [42 United States Code §1982]

Further, all individuals within the United States are given the same rights to make and enforce contracts (rental and lease agreements), sue, be sued, enjoy the full benefits of the law and be subject to the same punishments, penalties, taxes and licenses, regardless of race or legal status. [42 USC §1981]

The federal Civil Rights Act applies to race discrimination on the sale or rental of all types of real estate, both residential and commercial. Racially motivated activities in any real estate leasing transaction are prohibited.

Federal protection against racial discrimination given under the Civil Rights Act is a broad protection which applies to types of discrimination prohibited in all activities between individuals present in the country.

Anti-discrimination in residential property

While the federal Civil Rights Act provides general protection against all prohibited discriminatory activity, the Federal Fair Housing Act (FFHA) protections are specifically limited to dwellings, including rental housing. [42 USC §§3601 et seq.]

A dwelling includes any building or structure that is occupied, or designed to be occupied, as a residence by one or more families. A dwelling also includes vacant land offered for lease for residential dwelling purposes, such as a lot or space made available to hold a mobilehome unit. [42 USC §3602(b)]

The FFHA prohibits discrimination in the following situations:

  • the sale, rental or advertisement of a residence;
  • offering and performing broker services;
  • making loans to buy, build, repair or improve a residence;
  • the purchase of real estate loans; or
  • appraising real estate. [42 USC §3602]

The FFHA bars the use of any discriminatory actions a seller, landlord or property manager  might take against a prospective buyer or tenant based on an individual’s:

  • race or color;
  • national origin;
  • religion;
  • sex;
  • familial status; or
  • handicap. [42 USC §3602]

Familial status refers to whether a household includes individuals under the age of 18 in the legal custody of a parent or legally designated guardian. [42 USC §3602(k)]

Handicapped persons are individuals who have:

  • a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits the individual’s life activities; or
  • a record of, or are regarded as having, a physical or mental impairment. [42 USC §3602(h)]

The term “handicap” excludes individuals who illegally use a controlled substance. However, alcoholics and individuals who are considered “recovering or recovered addicts” are protected as handicapped individuals. [United States v. Southern Management Corporation (4th Cir. 1992) 955 F2d 914]

Consider a blind prospective tenant who has a guide dog and seeks to rent an available unit in a multi-unit residential dwelling structure.

The landlord refuses to rent a unit to the blind tenant, claiming the guide dog violates the building’s pet restriction in the covenants, conditions and restrictions (CC&Rs).

The blind tenant claims the landlord is discriminating against them due to their disability since the landlord denied them housing on account of the guide dog.

Here, a landlord may not refuse to rent residential property to a blind tenant because of inclusion of the tenant’s guide dog. Landlords are also prohibited from discriminating against tenants with dogs specially trained to assist deaf and other disabled individuals. [Calif. Civil Code §54.1(b)(6)]

Related article: 

Letter to the editor: What are the rights of a tenant with a service or support animal?