Federal Law

Under federal law, it is illegal to discriminate in the sale or rental of housing, including against individuals seeking a mortgage or housing assistance, or in other housing-related activities. The Fair Housing Act prohibits this discrimination because of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability. A variety of other federal civil rights laws, including Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibit discrimination in housing and community development programs and activities, particularly those that are assisted with HUD funding. These civil rights laws include obligations such as taking reasonable steps to ensure meaningful access to their programs and activities for persons with limited English proficiency (LEP) and taking appropriate steps to ensure effective communication with individuals with disabilities through the provision of appropriate auxiliary aids and services.

Sexual harassment in housing is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by the federal Fair Housing Act. There are two main types of sexual harassment: (1) quid pro quo sexual harassment; and (2) hostile environment sexual harassment.  Quid pro quo harassment occurs when a housing provider requires a person to submit to an unwelcome request to engage in sexual conduct as a condition of obtaining or maintaining housing or housing-related services.  Hostile environment harassment occurs when a housing provider subjects a person to severe or pervasive unwelcome sexual conduct that interferes with the sale, rental, availability, or terms, conditions, or privileges of housing or housing-related services, including financing.

State Law

California’s fair housing laws that make it illegal to discriminate because of the categories listed below.  The law applies to landlords, real estate agents, home sellers, builders, mortgage lenders, and others. The law prohibits discrimination in all aspects of the housing business, including: renting or leasing, sales, mortgage lending and insurance, advertising, practices such as restrictive covenants, and new construction.

California law protects individuals from illegal discrimination by housing providers based on the following:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Citizenship, immigration status
  • Primary language
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Disability, mental or physical
  • Sex, gender
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Familial status
  • Source of income
  • Military or veteran status

Housing designed to meet the physical and/or social needs of senior citizens, and in compliance with California laws governing senior housing, may exclude households with minor children. Similar provisions are provided for senior citizen mobile home parks under federal fair housing laws.

Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing

In 2015, HUD issued rules for Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, intended to end segregation in communities around the country. The 2015 AFFH rules required that cities consider all the ways discrimination impacts people’s lives, including education, environment, transportation, health, and more. The rules were meant to foster the design of locally driven approaches that promote access to affordable housing in communities with high performing schools, clean air, and reliable transportation choices and access to workforce opportunities and good jobs. The guidance required local jurisdictions to take “meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.” It did not require localities to change their zoning laws, though localities may decide to do so in order to further fair housing.

Although President Trump, in July 2020, issued an Executive Order formally rescinding the Obama Administration’s 2015 federal guidance on how to implement the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing (AFFH) provision of the Fair Housing Act, it remains in force in California.

California’s AB 686, signed into law in October 2018, states, “Affirmatively furthering fair housing means taking meaningful actions, in addition to combating discrimination, that overcome patterns of segregation and foster inclusive communities free from barriers that restrict access to opportunity based on protected characteristics.” The law is explicitly tied to the 2015 HUD rules, and requires all jurisdictions to administer their programs and activities relating to housing and community development in a manner to affirmatively further fair housing, and to not take any action that is materially inconsistent with this obligation. Beginning in 2021, every jurisdiction in the state will be required to integrate plans for ending discrimination and promoting integration into the Housing Element portion of their General Plan.

On January 26, 2021, President Biden issued a memo directing the Secretary of HUD to examine the effect that repealing the 2015 AFFH rule has had on HUD’s statutory duty to affirmatively further fair housing. The memo also directs the examination of the previous administration’s changes to the Disparate Impact rule, and the effect that it has had on HUD’s statutory duty to ensure compliance with the Fair Housing Act. The memo then instructs the HUD secretary to take the necessary steps to implement the Fair Housing Act AFFH requirement, and to prevent practices that have disparate impact.

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