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RENT WATCH

Owner's Responsible for Manager

May 18, 1997|From Project Sentinel

QUESTION: I hired a resident manager a few months ago to supervise my apartment complex. Shortly after he came aboard, the local Fair Housing office tested my complex. As it turned out, the manager was discouraging applicants who had children or who were minorities. When I challenged him, he said he didn't want to be around "those kinds of people." Obviously, I terminated him on the spot. I feel lucky I haven't been sued, but I feel badly about what happened on my property. I have yet to hire his replacement. Any tips?

ANSWER: For starters, do as thorough a background check as you can on all prospective managers. If you don't and it turns out, for example, that the person has a criminal record, you could be held accountable for his or her actions. The same goes for discrimination.

Limit the authority you give the manager--at least initially, until you feel comfortable with the manager's judgment. Do not let the manager select new tenants--he or she should only accept rental applications and process paperwork.

The manager should be knowledgeable with the basics of landlord-tenant law. It might be a good idea to put your "training tips" in writing. List the publications and/or books you expect your manager to read. If your local Fair Housing organization gives anti-discrimination training sessions, be sure your manager attends. Also, assure that your insurance covers illegal actions of the manager.

Finally, monitor your manager and listen to your tenants' complaints and concerns. Post on the premises your name and phone number and/or address so that the tenants have access to you. If you suspect poor maintenance, sexual harassment, bigotry or other problems, be your own detective and take appropriate corrective action.

Landlord Gives Gay Tenant 30-Day Notice

Q: I would like to know if there is any protection for gays and lesbians in housing. I am a gay male and I was recently given a 30-day notice because the landlord found out I was gay. I have rented from this landlord for years and have never had any problems. I was married when I first moved in, but I have since divorced and have revealed my sexual orientation. Is there anything I can do about this?

A: Although there are not any specific federal or state laws protecting sexual orientation, many cases have used the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Civil Code 51 et seq.), in which arbitrary discrimination based on personal characteristics is prohibited.

This means that a landlord cannot base rental or purchase decisions on any characteristic that does not affect the person's qualifications and ability to pay rent and to be a good tenant.

Additionally, San Francisco, Berkeley and Oakland do have ordinances that make this type of discrimination illegal. For more information and assistance, contact your local fair housing agency. To locate a fair housing agency in Southern California, call (213) 468-7464.

Willing to Make an Exception for This Cat

Q: I own a triplex and have had a no-pets policy in my rental agreement. I now have a vacant unit, and a nice young family has applied for it. They have good jobs and so their ability to pay is not a problem. However, they have a cat.

Can I ask to see their present apartment and verify for myself that the cat will not be a problem for me? Is there some law or civil code that says I can't do that?

A: No, there is no law against visiting an applicant's rental unit, although some people might see it as an invasion of privacy. You need to convince this family that you are making an unusual effort to consider their application. You have the right to check these prospective tenants' credit and rental records and you may try to see their present living quarters. They can, of course, say no, and if this happens, you do not have to rent to them.

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This column is prepared by Project Sentinel, a rental housing mediation service in Sunnyvale, Calif. Questions may be sent to 1055 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Suite 3, 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. Ventura County: call the Fair Housing Institute, (805) 385-7288.

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