Question: I am leasing a house to a family. I thought there were just two parents and two children, but when I was in the house fixing the stove recently I saw two other adults living there. I have no idea who they are. My lease precludes the signatory tenants from allowing any other adults to live in the property who are not on the lease, but I have been uncertain about whether I can take action. I know that I am not allowed to discriminate based on familial status. Will I be guilty of discrimination if I take action to remove these strangers?
Answer: Discrimination based on familial status is indeed forbidden. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act forbids this form of discrimination in Government Code Section 12955. One example of this type of discrimination would be limiting the total occupants in a rental property in order to squeeze out families.
However, nothing in the act precludes a landlord from enforcing a lease provision based on a legitimate business justification. In this case, a landlord has a right to require that all adult residents in a rental property become signatory parties to the rental agreement.
This requirement gives important protections for a landlord. It provides an opportunity to properly screen any adults living in the property and it ensures that the rental agreement can be enforced against them if they fail to comply with other terms of the rental agreement.
If you are unable to obtain voluntary compliance with this requirement, you will need to serve a three-day notice on the signatory tenants to "perform covenant or quit." The notice would require them to remove these strangers or face eviction. If your property is in a "just cause" eviction jurisdiction, you should check whether there are any additional requirements.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a mediation service based in Sunnyvale, Calif. To submit a question, go to http://www.housing.org.