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California Fair Housing Laws 2020


Failing to follow any of the California Fair Housing Laws in 2020 results in severe penalties.


Understanding the California Fair Housing Laws 2020


Lawyers explain California’s Fair Housing Laws for 2020 this way:

Before placing ads online or in print media or putting up a “for rent” sign, you must know the fair housing laws. They tell you what to do and say when advertising rentals and interviewing potential tenants during the application process.

Even charging potential tenants a screening fee comes under California’s Fair Housing Laws.

Under the law, landlords maintain the right to:

  • Reject applicants with bad credit history;
  • Poor references;
  • Past bad behavior with other landlords; and
  • Other indicators of a “bad risk”.

But, this does not allow landlords to discriminate against potential tenants.


California Fair Housing Laws History


California’s Unruh Act created the anti-housing discrimination law in 1959. Formerly called the Unruh Civil Rights Act named after its author Jesse Unruh.

It outlawed discrimination based on:

  • Age;
  • Ancestry;
  • Color;
  • Disability;
  • Genetic information;
  • Marital status;
  • Medical condition;
  • Race;
  • Religion;
  • Sex; or
  • Sexual orientation.

This law applies to every California business, including:

  • Barber and beauty shops;
  • Hospitals;
  • Hotels and motels;
  • Housing accommodations;
  • Restaurants;
  • Retail establishments; and
  • Theaters.

California courts later expanded the Unruh law to include:


California Fair Employment and Housing Act


Also in 1959, the California legislature passed the “California Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959” which prevents other forms of discrimination in employment and housing including sexual harassment.


The Rumford Fair Housing Act


“Loopholes in the Unruh law allowed local governments to restrict minorities from living in some California communities.” Source

Thus, in 1963, the state legislature enacted the Rumford Fair Housing Act banning all statewide unfair housing practices. The following year, Proposition 14 passed by California voters nullified the Rumford Act.

But, in 1966, the California Supreme Court later ruled it unconstitutional. In 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the California Supreme Court’s decision in Reitman v. Mulkey. Hence, the Rumford Act became restored.


The California Fair Employment and Housing Act


In 1980, the California state legislature combined several anti-discrimination laws which became the Fair Employment and Housing Act. It established the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).

The DFEH state agency enforces the law with the power to investigate and prosecute discrimination complaints. Currently, the DFEH is the biggest civil rights agency in the U.S.

In 1988, the California Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) became law. It made housing discrimination based on a person’s “disability or familial status” illegal. The new law added these two groups to the protected classes under the Fair Housing law. Source




Find more information about California’s fair housing laws from the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). The DFEH website also lists every California law related to employment and housing discrimination here.

Also, Project Sentinel, a nonprofit organization also provides explanations of these laws here.

Another resource includes the “California Landlord’s Law Book” here.


How California Agencies and Courts Handle Discrimination Complaints


California tenants may file complaints about landlord discrimination with the federal HUD here. Also, with the California DFEH here.

Besides filing administrative federal and state discrimination complaints, tenants may file lawsuits against their landlords in state or federal courts.

Yet, if they already filed an administrative complaint they must wait for the result before filing a lawsuit.


California Housing Discrimination Penalties


A housing agency or a court that finds discrimination occurred may require the landlord to pay penalties or damages to the tenant.

Also, when “outrageous” discrimination occurred, the law imposes punitive damages amounting to thousands of dollars plus the tenant’s attorney’s fees.

Contact the DFEH OR HUD (See contact information above) to learn about punitive damages.


Defending Against a California or Federal Discrimination Complaint or Lawsuit


Landlords facing discrimination administrative complaints or lawsuits find the process complicated.

Best to seek an experienced California discrimination defense attorney. Resources for finding one include:

  • This Law Directory;
  • Read this “How to Find an Excellent Attorney” article; or
  • “California Lawyers Specializing in Landlord-Tenant Laws” Directory.


San Diego Fair Housing


The City of San Diego provides “services without regard to age, ancestry, color, disability, familial status, gender, marital status, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation or source of income. This commitment extends to all grant-funded housing programs provided by the City”.

Learn more about the City of San Diego’s fair housing policies and available resources here.

San Diego maintains a Fair Housing Hotline to those unfairly denied housing at:  1-844-449-3500.

Also, read an “Analysis of Fair Housing Impediments” for the San Diego region in 2020 here.

Visit this organization’s site for more information about fair housing in the San Diego region here.


Future California Laws About Housing


Keep up with pending legislation and new housing laws provided by a California law firm here.


Federal Fair Housing Laws


Federal Fair Housing Laws exist which every landlord in the U.S. must follow.

Read about the federal fair housing laws here.

Also, the California HUD office site offers further information about federal law here.




California Fair Housing Laws in 2020 impose harsh penalties for landlords who fail to comply.

Understanding all the California Fair Housing Laws becomes essential to every landlord.

In a Nutshell: With so many protected classes of people, the best policy becomes: “Treat everyone equally” when advertising rentals, interviewing prospective tenants, and renting.


Confused by the Federal and California Fair Housing Laws?


Hire a California property management company that knows all the fair housing laws.

WeLease offers professional property management services in the greater San Diego region.

Contact Us to provide Fair Housing equal treatment for all your rental ads, processing prospective tenants’ applications & interviews, and servicing your tenants.


Steven Rich, MBA – Guest Blogger



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