The housing market in California is well-known for being extremely competitive. Most state residents are obliged to rent apartments rather than buy homes due to the significant cost of purchasing a property. For that reason, the rental market is just as competitive, and many people struggle to find or keep affordable apartments.
This isn’t helped by greedy landlords. California has some of the best laws in the country for protecting renters’ rights. However, unscrupulous landlords frequently violate these laws to push out tenants and rent a property for even higher amounts. They may also break fair housing laws to make their properties seem more “desirable” by discriminating based on race and disabilities.
If this sounds familiar, you might have suffered housing discrimination. That’s why you should familiarize yourself with state and local laws protecting your rights to fair housing as one of the millions of people renting homes in California. You have the right to fair access to housing, regardless of race, disability, religion, or other protected class. You even have rights regarding landlord credit checks. Here’s what you need to know about your rights as a renter in California and how to claim your rights under state law.
Laws Protecting California Renters
There are strict laws regarding what a landlord cannot do in California. The following three state laws provide some of the most essential protections for current and prospective tenants:
Fair Employment and Housing Act
The Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) is California’s version of the federal Fair Housing Act and the Civil Rights Act. FEHA combines these laws and strengthens them, providing California residents with stronger anti-discrimination protections. Under the bill, a person cannot be discriminated against by housing providers on grounds such as:
- Race or color
- Ancestry or national origin
- Citizenship or immigration status
- Primary language
- Mental or physical disability
- Sex or gender
- Sexual orientation
- Gender identity or gender expression
- Genetic information
- Marital status
- Familial status
- Source of income
- Military or veteran status
California Tenant Protection Act of 2019
It’s no surprise that many people found it hard to find housing during the pandemic, and many states implemented temporary measures to reduce pressure on individual renters. However, in 2019, before the pandemic even began, the state passed the California Tenant Protection Act. This bill went into effect on January 1st, 2020, and will remain in effect until 2030. It provides protections including:
- A requirement for landlords to have “just cause” before terminating tenancies.
- A limit on annual rent increases to 5% + local inflation rates or 10%, whichever is lower.
- A ban on tenants’ waiving these rights
Under the law, your landlord cannot evict you without a just cause, cannot raise the rent more than 10% per year at most, and nothing you sign can waive these rights.
Limits on Credit Checks and Fees
If you’re a prospective renter, you have likely noticed that simply applying for apartments can be costly due to credit checks and application fees. However, California has put a hard limit on these as well.
- Landlords cannot charge more than $35 for a screening fee, adjusted for inflation since 2018.
- Landlords can’t charge application fees unless there is a unit available or the applicant agrees in writing otherwise.
- This fee must go toward the cost of getting credit reports and the time spent doing so or checking references, and the remainder must be refunded. The entire payment must be returned if no report or background checks are done.
- Landlords must provide applicants with a copy of their credit report if they use an application fee to acquire one.
- Landlords must provide itemized receipts for their screening fees explaining what credit score they check and what background research they perform.
Examples of Renters’ Rights Violations
If you’re used to unfair treatment, you may not be aware your rights under the above laws have been violated. However, if they have, you may have grounds to take action against your landlord. Examples of renters’ rights violations include situations such as:
- A prospective landlord uses your credit report to determine your source of income and refuses you a lease.
- They fail to provide you with a copy of your credit report.
- They fail to refund your application fee when they don’t perform the necessary checks.
- They discriminate against you because your report shows you are unmarried, have children, or another protected status.
- Your current landlord gets a copy of your credit report after you are already a tenant and evict you after discovering new problems with your finances, despite your record of on-time rent payments.
- They attempt to force you out of the apartment by stopping routine maintenance while raising your rent.
In all of these situations, your right to fair housing is being violated, and you may be able to file a claim against your current or prospective landlord to pursue damages for your losses.
Stand Up for Your Right to Fair Housing in California
If you’re suffering from similar issues, you can stand up for your right to fair housing and credit checks by scheduling a consultation with an experienced attorney. You deserve a just opportunity to get high-quality housing without paying excessive fees or having your application denied due to an unfair credit check.
At the Law Offices of Todd M. Friedman, our expert lawyers specialize in helping people with credit issues, including problems like being denied housing or employment due to unfair credit report practices. We will work on your behalf to ensure you receive the fair opportunity you’re owed and that your credit will not work against you. Schedule your consultation today to learn more about how we can assist you with your credit and housing issues today.