As a landlord, it’s important that you familiarize yourself with state and federal anti-discrimination laws. They are meant to provide certain groups with protection when it comes to renting or buying a home, or obtaining a mortgage. 

In today’s article, we’re going to explain the California Fair Housing Act in detail so you can understand this aspect of landlord-tenant law and the obligations you have as a landlord in California. 

What Is Fair Housing?

Fair housing is just that – equality and fairness when it comes to housing-related matters. This opportunity applies to renters, buyers, and mortgage applicants. These groups have a right to be accorded an equal and fair opportunity by landlords, home sellers, and mortgage lenders. 

What Is the Federal Fair Housing Act? 

The Federal Fair Housing Act is also known as Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968. It prohibited discrimination based on four protected classes: race, color, religion, and nationality. 

The act was then amended six years later to include sex as a protected characteristic. It was amended yet again in 1988 to include disability and familial status in the list of protected classes. 

The two amendments brought the total number of protected classes to seven. A number of states, including California, have also made amendments to include more protections for their residents. 

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Who Oversees Fair Housing in California?

At the federal level, the department that oversees fair housing is the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). At the state level, however, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) enforces fair housing laws. 

The department usually begins its investigations shortly after receiving a complaint. It then does its investigation to see whether there is any merit to the case. As a landlord, you have a responsibility to treat your tenants equally and fairly based on the following classes. 

Protected Classes Under the Federal Fair Housing Act

  • Race: You must not deny a tenant the opportunity to rent your home based on their race. 
  • Color: You must not use skin color as one of the qualifying standards when renting out your California home. It’s illegal. 
  • Nationality: Discrimination involving nationality usually has to do with a tenant’s ancestry, ethnicity, nationality, and culture. You can not, for example, refuse to rent to undocumented immigrants. 
  • Religion: You must treat tenants equally regardless of their faith. Religious discrimination can be questioning renters about their beliefs or including discriminatory statements to give the impression that you prefer certain religious groups. 
  • Sex: It’s also illegal for landlords to treat potential and current tenants differently because of their sex. An example of such discrimination is raising rent after a tenant has just given birth. Sexual harassment is illegal, too. 
  • Family Status: Familial status under the fair housing law is only applicable where there are children under the age of 18 in a household. Illegal things to avoid as a landlord include refusing to rent to families with children, raising rent after a tenant gives birth, and restricting children’s outdoor recreation activities. 
  • Disability: Disabilities can come in various forms, including mental, physical, and emotional limitations. As a landlord, you have an obligation to give disabled tenants reasonable accommodations and allow their requests for reasonable modifications. It’d be illegal for you to refuse to rent to a disabled tenant or charge them a higher security deposit

Exterior of a modern apartment building

Additional Protected Classes Under California Fair Housing Law

  • Income Source: You must treat tenants fairly, as long as their income source is legal, regular, and verifiable. Income sources may include employment, child support, alimony, retirement benefits, or public benefits. It’d be illegal, for instance, for you to require that tenants have a job to rent your property. 
  • Sexual Orientation: California provides protections for people who are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. It would be illegal for you to deny renting out your home because of an applicant’s gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation. 
  • Marital Status: Married and unmarried persons must be provided an equal opportunity when it comes to renting. It’d be illegal, for instance, to refuse to rent to unmarried couples or single parents. It’d also be illegal for you to set curfews or overnight guest restrictions for single residents. 
  • Age: This should also not be a factor when renting out your home. For instance, refusing to rent your home to a person because they are over the age of 40 will constitute discrimination. 

Exemptions from the California Fair Housing 

Yes, there are a few exemptions under the Fair Housing Act. They apply to:

  • Religious Organizations: These are allowed to provide housing only to members of their faith. 
  • Private Clubs: These are allowed to deny housing to members who don’t abide by their ideals. 
  • Owner-Occupied Housing: Owners who have a maximum of four units and already occupy one of those units are also exempt from fair housing. 

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How Can Landlords Avoid Fair Housing Complaints? 

  • Make proper rental ads that don’t include any discriminatory language. 
  • Avoid screening questions that touch on tenants’ protected classes and ask all prospective residents the same screening questions. 
  • Charge a consistent rental price. 
  • Provide timely repairs and maintenance to all tenants, regardless of their race, color, and other classes. 
  • Don’t retaliate against tenants after they have exercised a right, such as reporting you to a health agency for action due to possible habitability violations. 


Understanding the Fair Housing Act isn’t an option for landlords; it’s necessary. Otherwise, the repercussions may be far-reaching. If you have more questions, reach out to the team at Westside Property Management. We’re a full-service property management company based in Los Angeles. Get in touch to learn more!

This blog should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed attorney in your state. Laws change, and this post might not be updated at the time of your reading. Please contact us for any questions you have in regards to this content or any other aspect of your property management needs.