California Fair Housing Act: An Overview

fair housing laws

As part of the landlord-tenant laws in California, landlords are required to treat their tenants with respect and fairness. Enacted by Congress in 1968, the goal of the Fair Housing Act is to eliminate housing discrimination when it comes to the renting and buying of homes. Mortgage lenders are also not an exemption. 

If you are a landlord and want to learn more about the act and your responsibilities under it, keep on reading. 

What Led to the Passage of the Act by Congress? 

As already mentioned, the Fair Housing Act (FHA) was passed by Congress in 1968. Before the passage of this act, two attempts were made to stamp out housing discrimination. The first attempt was the Rumford Fair Housing Act. The author behind the act was W. Byron Rumford, an assembly member of the California Legislature. 

The California Legislature passed the Rumford Fair Housing Act to help end racial discrimination by property owners and landlords who refused to sell or rent their property to people of color in 1963. 

The second attempt at ensuring fair housing was made a year later with the Civil Rights Act. It was first proposed by President John F. Kennedy and was signed into law by Lyndon B. Johnson, Kennedy’s successor. 

The act outlawed housing discrimination based on race, religion, color, or national origin. It also gave federal law enforcement agencies the power to prevent racial discrimination in voting, employment, and the use of public facilities. 

fair housing laws in California

But the Fair Housing Act of 1968 was the groundbreaking piece of legislation that brought real change in matters of housing discrimination. First introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1966, its goal was to protect people from discrimination in housing matters. 

At first, it only prohibited discrimination based on four protected characteristics. That is, race, color, religion, and national origin. Sex was added as a protected characteristic in 1974. 

Another amendment was made in 1988. Signed into law on September 13, 1988, the Fair Housing Amendments Act (FHAA) became effective on March 12, 1989. The act amended Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 to add more protected characteristics: disability and familial status. 

So, in total, there are 7 protected characteristics at the federal level. That is, race, color, religion, sex, disability, familial status, and national origin. Some states, including California, have also passed legislation to add more protected characteristics to the list. 

What are Protected Characteristics in the State of California? 

According to the California Department of Fair Housing, the protected characteristics are as follows: 

  • Race – It’s illegal to discriminate against a tenant based on their race. Therefore, a person’s race shouldn’t factor when it comes to renting a property. 
  • Color – It’s illegal for landlords to discriminate against a tenant based on their skin color. 
  • Religion – A landlord cannot refuse to rent to someone based on the tenant’s religious beliefs. 
  • Medical Condition – It’s illegal to discriminate against a tenant based on their medical condition. Including, history or record of cancer or any genetic characteristic.

ending housing discrimination

  • Marital Status – Whether a person is married or single, you have a responsibility to treat them equally without discrimination. 
  • Gender – Under the Fair Housing Act in the state a person’s gender cannot be a determining factor in whether or not they are suitable to rent the unit. 
  • Sexual Orientation – This protection is primarily intended for members of the LGBTQ community.

Other protected characteristics include disability, age, genetic information, ancestry, and national origin. 

What Types of Homes Does the Fair Housing Act Apply to? 

The Fair Housing Act applies to all types of housing that are either rented, sold, or leased. This, therefore, includes properties such as apartments, condominiums, single-family homes, mobile home parks, and even homeowners’ associations. 

But are there any exceptions? Yes, there are. In very limited circumstances, the Act exempts private clubs, religious-operated organizations, single-family homes rented or sold by the owner without agency services, as well as owner-occupied buildings having less than 4 units. 

How Can Landlords Discriminate Against Tenants? 

The following is how discrimination in housing can occur:

  • Running rental ads that contain discriminatory language. For example, “Ideal for Single Professionals,” or “Suitable for a Female Student.” 
  • Asking illegal questions during the tenant qualifying process. For example, “Is that a service dog,” “How many children do you have,” or “Where are you originally from.” 
  • Using a different qualifying standard based on the race, color, or another protected characteristic of a tenant. 

discriminatory rental listings

  • Treating tenants differently based on a protected characteristic. For instance, responding to maintenance requests quickly for male tenants but not for female tenants.
  • Terminating a tenant’s lease for discriminatory reasons.
  • Saying your unit is not available for renting when it actually is. 
  • Steering a tenant away from a section of a community or neighborhood. 

What Rights to Disabled Tenants Have in California? 

First and foremost, in California, a disabled tenant has the same rights as every other tenant. As such, disability shouldn’t factor in a landlord’s decision. The following are some of the things you should know as a landlord:

  • It’s illegal to ask discriminatory questions. For one, you cannot ask about the severity of a disability. In addition, it’d be illegal for you to inquire about a disabled tenant’s medical records. 
  • You have a responsibility to honor reasonable requests from a disabled tenant. 
  • Your disabled tenant has a right to make reasonable modifications to their unit. 


There you have it! Everything you need to know about the state’s Fair Housing laws. As a landlord renting out a property, you also need to ensure that you understand landlord-tenant laws, the legal eviction process, security deposit laws, leasing regulations, and more. 

Do you have questions regarding property management? Home Choice Property Management can help! We are a trustworthy property management company that can help you in all aspects of property management. Get in touch to learn more!

Disclaimer: This post should not be used as a substitute for professional legal advice. If you need legal assistance please contact a licensed attorney.