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Systematic Eviction of Specific Ethnic Groups Is Illegal

November 10, 1996|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: We've been living in this middle-class apartment complex for about four years. When we first moved in, we really liked the mix of races and cultures. Now, this complex is slowly being dominated by one ethnic group. Whenever a lease expires and the tenants are not part of the "in group," they receive a notice to move. Those of us on a month-to-month basis are just waiting for a 30-day termination notice. Pretty soon, this will be a one-flavor complex. I know that this isn't right, but is it legal?

ANSWER: You are correct in assuming that the systematic eviction of specific ethnic groups from your apartment complex is wrong; it is also illegal. Unless you are on a federally subsidized program or live in one of the few cities that require just cause for eviction, a landlord does not need a specific reason to evict a tenant at the end of a lease agreement. However, it is illegal to evict anyone because of their protected class status, such as race or national origin.

Under the Code of Federal Regulations, it is unlawful to "engage in any conduct relating to the provision of housing which otherwise makes unavailable or denies dwellings to persons because of race, color . . . or national origin." It is also illegal under California law, which specifically precludes the termination of a rental agreement based on the race or national origin of the renter.

These laws are designed to ensure that no one ethnic or racial group, no matter what the ethnicity or race, be allowed to bar other racial or ethnic groups from renting or buying a home wherever they choose.

Your observation that people of particular ethnic groups are being systematically evicted is a strong indication that illegal discrimination may be occurring. For further information, you can call the Fair Housing Hotline at (415) HOUSING for Northern California or (213) HOUSING in Southern California.

In Praise of the Mediation Process Q: I am a manager of an apartment complex and I'm writing to express my enthusiasm for the mediation process.

One of my newer tenants and I had a problem communicating and interacting--the item of dissent was generally about repair issues. She wanted repairs done sooner than I could either do them myself or make other arrangements. This tenancy was nearly on the rocks and I was about to suggest to the owner that we issue a termination notice.

However, the tenant read about a local mediation program and contacted them. They in turn called me and a mediation was arranged. Both of us were able to listen to each other's concerns in a neutral, convenient and nonthreatening environment.

We were able to agree on a policy that detailed how repairs would be handled to everyone's satisfaction and since this process worked so well with the two of us, I've implemented it with my other tenants. Everyone, including myself, is delighted. The original mediation was some months ago, but I wouldn't hesitate to do it again. I also recommend it to other managers and owners.

A: Our congratulations on discovering the mediation process. Using mediation to solve your problems can be rewarding and empowering since you are not leaving the solution up to a third party--you are solving your own problems in a cooperative and nonconfrontational manner.

Make Effort to Move by End of 30-Day Period Q: I travel a lot in my work. The last month has been very hectic and I overlooked a 30-day notice I received from my landlady. When I did come across the notice, there was only a week to go before the 30 days were up.

I talked with the landlady, confident that I could change her mind or at least buy some extra time, but I was wrong. She is moving in her parents, and they have given notice on their place. What can I do?

A: Make every effort to move out by the end of the 30 days. You might even consider putting your things in storage and staying at a motel or with family or friends until you secure a new home. Shared housing might also be a short-term solution.

If you don't move, the property owner can begin an eviction process at the end of the period called for in your 30-day notice. In that case, you will receive a court summons that states that the defendant (you) is being sued by the plaintiff (your landlady). This legal action is called an "unlawful detainer."

It is in your best interest to avoid this. A judgment against you in an unlawful detainer can affect your credit rating for up to seven years. If you are unable to move out, you should contact your local mediation program or an attorney as soon as possible.

*

This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 582-B Dunholme Way, Sunnyvale, CA 94087 but cannot be answered individually.

For housing discrimination questions, complaints or help, call the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment at (800) 233-3212 or the Fair Housing Council in your area: Westside Los Angeles, (310) 477-9260. San Fernando Valley, (818) 373-1185. Pasadena, (818) 791-0211. El Monte, (818) 579-6868. Orange County, (714) 569-0828. San Bernardino County, (909) 884-8056. San Diego County, (619) 699-5888.

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