Federal fair housing laws prohibit discriminatory advertising in all housing, regardless of how large or small the property.
What are the "protected categories" in my area?
The "protected categories" under state and local fair housing laws may differ depending on where you reside.
- Federal "protected categories" include: Race, Color, Religion, National Origin, Handicap/Disability and Familial Status
- State of California "protected categories" include Gender, Marital Status, Sexual Orientation, Age, Source of Income and Arbitrary Characteristics.
What is "familial status"?
"Familial status" applies to families with children under the age of 18. Unless otherwise exempt, it is illegal to:
- discriminate against families with children
- discourage families with children from renting a unit
- steer families with children to a particular area of an apartment complex
- establish rules, regulations, or policies that discriminate or have a disparate impact on families with children
- discriminate against pregnant women
- discriminate against anyone in the process of securing legal custody of a child under the age of 18
Who is exempt from laws prohibiting "familial status" discrimination?
Under federal fair housing laws, housing reserved for exclusively for people who qualify as senior citizens is exempt from "familial status" prohibitions. Housing for senior citizens is defined as either of the following:
This exemption applies only to familial status discrimination; discrimination against all other protected categories, including disability, is still prohibited in housing for older persons.
- Housing occupied solely by persons 62 years of age or older; or
- Housing in which 80% of the occupied units have at least one person 55 years of age or older, and which meet certain other requirements.
How does the law define "disability/handicap"?
Federal law defines "handicap" as any "physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more of [a] person's major life activities, a record of having such impairment, or being regarded as having such impairment." California has a broader definition of disability which offers greater protections than federal law.
What are "reasonable accommodations"?
Persons with disabilities are entitled to reasonable accommodations and/or modifications in their housing. Accordingly, a denial of a reasonable accommodation or modification to a person with a disability is considered discrimination under disability protections.
A reasonable accommodation requires a housing provider to alter or change their rules and policies in order to allow persons with disabilities to enjoy their dwellings. For instance, a landlord who owns a building with a "no pets" policy, may be required to allow a person who relies on a seeing-eye dog to live with a blind tenant.
A reasonable modification requires a housing provider to allow a tenant with a disability to make structural changes to her apartment so that she may access her home. For example, a landlord may be required to allow his tenant to build an entry ramp if the tenant is confined to a wheelchair and has no other means of accessing the home.
What should I do if I find a discriminatory advertisement or feel I have been discriminated against?
If you encounter discriminatory advertising or believe your rights have been violated, you can file an online complaint here, or call us at (415) 434-9400.
How can you recognize a discriminatory advertisement?
In general, an advertisement is discriminatory if it expresses a limitation or preference based on one of the protected categories. An advertisement is also discriminatory if it uses language that might be discouraging towards a certain protected category. For instance, saying that a particular apartment is "perfect for a single or couple" could be discouraging towards families with children. It is important to understand that even unintentional discriminatory statements in an advertisement are illegal.
Lastly, an advertisement is discriminatory if it uses language that negatively or disproportionately impacts a specific protected group. For instance, an advertisement for a 2 bedroom unit which states a preference for "2 persons only" might have a disparate impact on families with children. Although, it does not explicitly state a preference based on familial status, it creates an occupancy limit which affects families with children to a greater extent than other types of households. For more information on reasonable occupancy limits, please call HELP at (415) 434-9400.
Although not an exhaustive list, these examples should give you some idea of what might constitute a discriminatory housing advertisement.
Race / Color
Advertisements stating a preference for the race of a desired applicant (e.g. "no blacks," "whites only") Advertisements describing the race of current occupants of the complex or neighborhood (e.g. "African-American neighborhood," "most residents are Asian," "lots of Hispanic families")
- As stating a preference for the religion of a desired applicant (e.g. "Christians only," "no Muslims")
- Advertisements describing the religion of current occupants of the complex or neighborhood (e.g. "nice, Christian neighborhood," "Jewish family seeks roommate")
Handicap / Disability
- Advertisements stating a preference for a certain national origin (e.g. "no immigrants," "no foreigners," "Irish preferred")
- Advertisements posted only in a language other than English
- Advertisements describing the national origin of current occupants of the complex or neighborhood (e.g."predominately Latino neighborhood," "mostly Asian residents")
- Advertisements stating a preference for able-bodied tenants (e.g. "no wheelchairs," "must be able to live independently")
- Advertisements describing the complex as unable to accommodate people with disabilities (e.g. "units are not accessible", "no pets, even seeing eye dogs")
Sex / Gender
- Advertisements stating a clear preference for families without children (e.g. "no children," "no kids and no pets," "single occupancy only")
- Advertisements that could discourage families with children (e.g. "ideal for working professionals," "perfect for single or couple," "nice, quiet, mature, neighborhood")
*Note that prohibitions on advertising a preference based upon sex/gender do not apply to shared housing situations.
- Advertisements stating a preference for one sex* over another (e.g. "no young men," "female preferred")