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DISCRIMINATION

Discrimination is the different treatment of individuals based on their membership in a class or based on something unique to them as individuals.  Some discrimination is illegal and some discrimination is actually legal.

Generally, illegal discrimination is when someone is treated differently simply due to their membership in a class based on a protected characteristic.   For example, such characteristics includes race, national origin, color, age, gender, religion, family status, disability etc.  These are characteristics which are either impossible or at least very difficult to control or change.

Legal discrimination is generally where a person is treated differently due to a behavioral characteristic such as credit record, past behavior as a tenant, smoking, wealth and job security etc. These are matters essentially within the control of the individual.

Of course, there are exceptions and unique variations within both groups but these rules act as a general guideline.  One could argue that certain disabilities are caused by behavior (i.e. illness from smoking) or that certain protected characteristics are easily changed (i.e. changing religion, family status etc.).  This is one reason why discrimination law can be very complex.

Fair Housing Laws cover discrimination in renting.  These are found in both Federal and State Laws.  There are penalties for illegal discrimination in both legal systems (Federal and State)  Further, a landlord should not be able to evict a tenant based on an illegal discrimination.

Illegal discrimination may be difficult to prove.  You must first show some differential treatment for one person as opposed to another based
on the protected characteristic and not some other allowable reason.  Some landlords will invent excuses for the differential treatment so as to try and get away with what was really an improper discrimination.  For example, an eviction is filed by a new owner who is of a different race than that of an existing tenant.  If questioned, the landlord may say he/she examined the rent payment history of the tenant and feels it is not good enough.   What is the true motive?  Is it based on the rent or the race? 

SOME OTHER EXAMPLES:

SOURCE OF INCOME
The fair housing laws in California include protection against discrimination regarding tenants' income.  A landlord is prohibited from discriminating against tenants based on their SOURCE OF INCOME (i.e. public assistance, child support etc.)   Also, multiple tenants applying to share the same rental unit should be treated as a group for determining income qualifications.  Therefore, a tenant who earns no money can still qualify as long as the co-tenant applicants qualify as a group as to income.  The policies of landlords in evaluating other aspects of their credit (i.e. past evictions, bad credit entries on the record etc.) may still be applied to each applicant.

COMPANION ANIMAL 
State, Federal and case rulings protect the rights of those who need Assistance Animals.  The law recognizes that Companion Animals may also provide needed emotional or therapeutic assistance to many people.  This means that under certain conditions, a tenant may be allowed to keep a companion animal even in a "no pet" building.  See Disability Rights of California and a 2009 press release from the Dept.of Fair Employment and Housing.

REASONABLE ACCOMMODATIONS
Under California (and under certain Federal) law, a disabled person is entitled to reasonable accommodations from the landlord including allowing certain changes to the rental unit (at the tenant's expense) to accommodate the disability.  Such accommodations may include the installation of handrails, ramps, lighted doorbells or allowing a Companion Animal even in a "No Pet" building. 

If you feel you are the victim of illegal discrimination you may contact the following for assistance:   U.S. Dept of Housing and Urban Development (H.U.D.),   for California - California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and for San Diego - the Fair Housing Council of San Diego. as well as  Legal Aid

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California law for San Diego is applied in these pages.  Such laws may or may not be applicable in other jurisdictions.  The information provided herein is of a general nature and is not intended to be taken as specific legal advice. 
For legal advice in a particular situation, promptly consult with an appropriate attorney.