Question: I have been looking for a new apartment to rent. I found a studio apartment listed on Craigslist that sounded great, although the ad said applicants must "be employed." I am unemployed, but I receive Social Security and pension retirement payments. I told the owner that I did not have a job, but that my retirement benefits amounted to more than three times the $900 rent. He said he would rent only to a tenant who was employed.
He then explained that he was having financial troubles and could not afford to lose money on this property. He told me he knew my Social Security and pension benefits could not be garnished if I failed to pay rent. I thought landlords must accept non-employment income. Is there some exception if the landlord is experiencing financial difficulties?
Answer: As you already know, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act prohibits discrimination based on a rental applicant's source of income, as long as the applicant can demonstrate the ability to financially qualify. This landlord violated the act because there is no exception for a housing provider's financial stress.
Every time a statute is enacted to protect rights, there are opposing interests that may be affected. The Legislature has recognized the need to protect access to housing for rental applicants whose income comes from sources other than employment. The Legislature has decided that protecting access for this group of applicants is more important than any potential harm a housing provider might suffer. Without this protection, the many citizens who depend on public benefits for their financial support would find it very difficult to obtain housing.
If an applicant like you is conscientious about paying the rent, the landlord will not suffer any actual harm. The landlord has protections available to assure you will be able to meet your rent obligation, such as verifying your retirement income, collecting the maximum allowable security deposit and asking for references from your previous landlords.
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.