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Clustering Minority Tenants Is a Form of Illegal Racial Bias

September 10, 2000|From Project Sentinel

Question: I am an African American who called an apartment complex in response to a rental ad. The manager told me there were several one-bedroom units still available, and we set up an appointment to view the units.

When I arrived for the meeting, the manager told me there was only one unit left, even though the sign on the lawn said there were four one-bedroom units available.

As we walked to the available unit, I noticed several vacant units near a nice fountain and patio area. When I asked about those units, I was told they were being held off the market for now. The unit I was shown was in the building located near the carports and trash bins.

I was approved for the unit and moved in several months ago. I now have noticed that only African Americans reside in my building and not in other buildings within the complex.

Is it OK for the manager to put all African American tenants in one building even though there may be other available units throughout the complex?

Answer: Federal and state fair-housing laws specifically prohibit housing providers from offering a particular type of applicant only units in a certain area of a complex.

This practice of channeling individuals to predesignated areas and denying access to other areas is known as "steering." Steering is not the refusal to rent; rather it is a practice that makes housing unavailable to certain applicants.

Steering may occur in several forms. For example, a large housing provider may rent part of a complex only to Asians while another part of the same complex is rented only to African Americans. Thus, a housing provider's practice of limiting units to one particular group of people may be considered a fair-housing violation.

You, as well as the other African American residents you mentioned, may have been discriminated against if there were available units that met your needs elsewhere in the apartment complex but were not made available to you by the manager.

For more information, contact your local fair-housing agency. In Southern California, call (323) HOUSING.

Tenant May Request Ramp for Wheelchair

Q: My husband is disabled and uses a wheelchair. We live in an apartment complex that has short flights of stairs leading to our front door. My husband feels like a prisoner in our apartment because he cannot enter and exit by himself. I was told that we could request a ramp. Is this true?

A: Yes, you can request that a ramp be installed to accommodate your husband's physical disability. This is considered a "reasonable modification."

Federal and state fair-housing laws state that people with physical or mental disabilities can request modifications that will aid them in dealing with their disabilities.

In non-subsidized housing, the requesting tenant is responsible for paying the cost of the modification. However, there are social service agencies that will pay part or all of the modification costs.

Tenants should request reasonable modifications in writing. If the landlord asks for verification, the tenant must have his or her treating physician write a letter stating the need for the modification.

A modification can be denied if it violates any local city building code. For more information, contact your local fair-housing agency.

Tenant May Operate Child-Care Service

Q: I am the owner of an apartment building and have recently received notification from a tenant that she intends to operate a licensed family child-care facility in her apartment. I am concerned that a child will get hurt on the property.

Can I tell the tenant that she cannot operate the facility in her apartment or can I give her a notice to move?

A: In California, if your tenant obtains a valid child-care license, she has the right to operate a family child-care facility.

California Health and Safety Code 1597.40 requires a tenant to notify a landlord, in writing, 30 days in advance of the intention to provide family child-care services. A landlord is entitled to require the tenant be properly licensed.

This civil code also allows the landlord to charge the maximum security deposit permitted. The maximum deposit for an unfurnished unit cannot exceed two months rent, and the maximum for a furnished unit is three times the rent.

If you believe your tenant's deposit is not sufficient, you can issue a 30-day notice of change of terms of tenancy to increase the deposit to the maximums stated above.

A landlord may refuse the tenant's written notification only if the tenant is not properly licensed. A tenant's residency cannot be terminated for following the legal procedures in establishing a child-care facility.

For licensing information, contact your local office of the state Department of Social Services.


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

Bellflower: (562) 901-0808.

Carson: (888) 777-4087.

El Monte: (626) 579-6868.

Hawthorne: (310) 474-1667.

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.

Orange County: (714) 569-0828.

San Bernardino County: (909) 884-8056.

San Diego County: (619) 699-5888.

Ventura County: (805) 385-7288.

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