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Eviction based on tenant's source of income is illegal

RENT WATCH

March 08, 2013|By Martin Eichner

Question: When I moved into my apartment building about two years ago, I had a job as a physical therapy assistant. About three months ago, however, I had a bad bicycle accident, and now I can't work.

Currently, my main source of income is disability insurance from my employer and state disability benefits. When the apartment manager saw me around the apartment complex during the day, she asked me whether I was still working. I explained to her that I was on disability.

She seemed concerned about this and about a week later served me with a 60-day notice terminating my tenancy. I asked her why, and she said she didn't have to tell me. I have had no problems with my landlord before now and get along fine with my neighbors, so I think this has something to do with the fact that I am not working now, even though I have been able to pay the rent on time. Is there anything I can do?

Answer: Your landlord may be discriminating against you based on your source of income — disability benefits — and that would violate California's fair housing laws.

A landlord in California generally can terminate a month-to-month tenancy if the tenant has lived in the rental unit for more than a year by giving the tenant a 60-day notice, as your landlord has done here, and in most cases she does not have to state a reason.

However, no landlord can terminate a tenancy for a discriminatory reason. California's fair housing laws prohibit discrimination against a tenant on the basis of his or her source of income.

If a tenant can demonstrate that he or she qualifies financially to be a tenant with a verifiable source of income, even one that is not based on employment, then the landlord may not discriminate on that basis. Such prohibited discrimination may include refusal to rent, providing inferior conditions or services, or other discriminatory treatment, including terminating a tenancy because of the tenant's source of income.

Although your landlord has not stated that she is terminating your tenancy because you are on disability benefits, the timing of the 60-day notice is certainly suspicious, especially because you have been timely with your rent and report having no other issues with your landlord.

You can contact a fair housing advocacy organization, such as Project Sentinel, which may investigate your discrimination claim, at (888) 324-7468.

You also can file a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing within one year of the alleged act of discrimination or harassment. You can contact the department at (800) 233-3212 or via its website.

In addition, check the California Department of Consumer Affairs' website for more information regarding unlawful discrimination.

Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a nonprofit agency providing tenant-landlord and fair housing counseling in four Bay Area counties. To submit a question, contact info@housing.org.

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