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RENT WATCH

Fair Housing Laws Bar Sexual Harassment

April 04, 1999|From PROJECT SENTINEL

Question: Since I moved into my apartment, the manager of the complex has approached me on several occasions and made comments of a sexual nature, insinuating that my rent could be reduced if I went along with his advances. I really like this apartment and want to keep it. What can I do?

Answer: Contact the owner of the property and notify him or her that the manager may be committing an act of discrimination under fair housing laws.

If the owner does not remedy the situation, you may want to contact your local fair housing agency, file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or seek advice from a fair housing attorney.

Sexual harassment, as interpreted by the courts, is included in the federal Fair Housing Act's prohibition of sex discrimination.

The Fair Housing Act as it relates to sexual harassment recognizes two forms of sexual harassment. The first is the demand of sex or sexual acts in exchange for housing or housing benefits. An example is if a landlord evicts a tenant or refuses services because the tenant refuses to have sex with him or her.

The second form of sexual harassment is the maintenance or creation of a "hostile housing environment." This form of sexual harassment involves unwelcome behavior of a sexual nature that creates an intimidating, hostile or abusive housing environment or has the effect of detrimentally interfering with a tenant's housing.

For example, if a landlord repeatedly makes unwanted sexual advances or threats or touches a tenant in a sexual way, then the landlord may be creating a "hostile housing environment" as defined in the fair housing laws.

Furthermore, a property owner may be held liable for the conduct of the manager.

Any negligence on behalf of the owner in remedying discriminatory acts by a manager can provide the basis for a lawsuit against the owner in which compensatory as well as punitive damages could be assessed.

30 Days Required for Rent Increase

Q: My landlord wants to raise my rent by 10%. He said the new rent amount is due on the first, which is next week.

Can he do that?

A: If you have a lease, rather than a month-to-month agreement, your landlord cannot raise your rent during a lease period, unless there is language in the lease that would allow it. In that case, the language of the contract rules.

If, on the other hand, you have a month-to-month agreement, your landlord can increase the rent by any amount he chooses, but he must give you a written 30-day notice of the increase. The exception is if you live in a city with rent control, in which case the ordinance for that city sets the limits for rent increases.

You might want to explain to your landlord that under California Civil Code section 1946, he needs to give you a written 30-day notice. If you are unsure how to approach the landlord, your local mediation program could be a good resource to help you learn how to do so.

Disabled Exempt From No-Pet Rule

Q: I am a manager of an apartment complex that has a strict no-pets policy. Because of a loss of vision, one of the tenants has recently acquired a seeing-eye dog. When I spoke to her about the no-pet policy, she said her dog was exempt because her disability requires the use of the dog. I gave her a three-day notice to perform covenant or quit, essentially telling her to get rid of the dog or move out. Am I within my rights to do this?

A: No, you are not. Under both federal and state fair housing laws, tenants with disabilities can request what is called a "reasonable accommodation." In this case, the reasonable accommodation would be to allow the tenant to live in the complex with a service animal, despite management's no-pet policy.

You do have the right to ask a tenant making a reasonable accommodation request to furnish a letter from a physician authorizing the need for the reasonable accommodation. The reasonable accommodation request must be "reasonable" and not place an undo administrative or financial burden on you or the owner of the complex.

The request from a blind or deaf tenant to have a seeing-eye or hearing-ear dog in an apartment building that has a no-pets policy would be considered a reasonable request. These animals are service animals and are not merely pets.

In addition, a request from a mentally disabled tenant to have a "companion" animal, as suggested by the tenant's physician or psychiatrist, would be another example of when you may need to allow the tenant to bypass your complex's no-pet rule.

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, Calif. 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, Fair Housing Institute or Fair Housing Foundation office in your area:

Bellflower: (888) 777-4087.

Carson: (888) 777-4087.

El Monte: (626) 579-6868.

Hawthorne: (888) 777-4087.

Lancaster: (888) 777-4087.

Long Beach: (562) 901-0808.

Pasadena: (626) 791-0211.

Redondo Beach: (888) 777-4087.

San Fernando Valley: (818) 373-1185.

South-Central Los Angeles: (213) 295-3302.

Westside Los Angeles: (310) 474-1667.

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