Highlighting the interplay between the federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and state anti-discrimination laws, earlier this year the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) announced it resolved a housing discrimination case asserting that property owners (who were a married couple) refused to rent a guesthouse to another couple because they were married and the wife was pregnant.

After viewing (and responding to) ads for housing on various internet sites, the complaint alleges the owners failed to rent the property to the couple as the landlords told them the guesthouse was for only one person. The DFEH investigation revealed that the ads noted the unit was for “ONE person ONLY, NO couples, only ONE person…” DFEH further claimed that the landlords ran an advertisement on a different online site noting a preference for “Straight men, Straight women” as tenants and no children.

After informal mediation was unsuccessful, DFEH initiated a lawsuit in December 2018, including claims of discrimination based on marital status, familial status, and sexual orientation. As such, this case demonstrates how management must know the specific laws in the jurisdictions in which we have properties. For example, while sexual orientation is not generally a protected class under the federal FHA, it is an additional protected class under California law and the alleged discriminatory language in the internet ad was used to bring an additional count in the complaint.

The case ultimately settled with the owners agreeing to pay $15,000, including damages to the potential tenants as well as attorney’s fees and costs to DFEH. As is typical in these types of cases, the owners will also be required to draft anti-discrimination policies, attend fair housing training, and submit regular fair housing compliance reports for the next three years.

In this day and age, we have to ensure our housing ads – which are now largely online – comply with the law as anyone (including fair housing testers as well as potential renters) has easy access to them. And while I know there are two sides to every story, the ads will typically be found to speak for themselves and management’s efforts to explain them away will be subject to scrutiny.

Just A Thought.