LEGAL ISSUES AFFECTING FAIR HOUSING
Fair Housing encompasses all issues of real estate that impact the availability of housing for Tenants as well as Buyers.
Today, I’ll focus on several key issues that should guide any housing provider in the services and representations that they make to others.
1. Don’t Forget that Tenants are people too. In law school they teach us that ownership of real estate includes a bundle of various rights which we can keep or give away. One of the most important is the right of occupancy. An owner gives this right away to another person (“Tenant”) for a period of time through use of a Rental Agreement which can be month-to-month or for longer. For the Tenants, the Property becomes their home… a safe and secure place to live and raise their families. No-one has a right to interfere with the Tenants’ right of occupancy while their Rental Agreement is in effect… unless the Tenant breaches the Agreement or that right is given in the Rental Agreement. Typical provisions allow the Owner to enter following a written Notice to inspect the Property, make repairs, or show the Property to prospective purchasers or lenders. However, unless agreed to by the Tenants, this generally does not permit installation of a lockbox or the holding of Open Houses. In my experience, Tenants are often willing to cooperate with a Seller’s desire to sell the Property if they are treated with respect and consideration. Remember, they are losing what they consider to be their home and will have to move. Smart owners seeking a faster sale will make it worthwhile for the Tenants to cooperate.
2. Legal Support for Tenant Rights – When I acquired my first rental property in 1977, Property owners could do almost anything they wanted… they truly were the Lord of the Land. Changes in the law and social awareness have balanced the scales somewhat but abuses of Tenant rights still occur, especially where Tenants lack the financial ability to fight back. Although the Fair Housing Commission closed in 2014, community and regional organizations have sought to fill the gap including Legal Services of Northern California at McGeorge Law School. And for serious abuses, State and Federal authorities may step in with legal action. While some might decry this as being an erosion of Owner rights, the underlying purpose is to provide equal opportunity for housing for everyone.
3. Recent Expansions – In the not too distant past, people were denied housing based upon their race, or religion, or nationality, or sexual orientation. While advances in the law have substantially reduced such abuses, the last few years have expanded housing opportunities for disabled persons. Today State and Federal laws generally compel Property Owners to make “reasonable accommodations” to allow disabled Tenants to have a Service Animal even in Properties where pets are not allowed. More recently, State and Local laws have encouraged (but not compelled) Owners to allow the use of Medical Marijuana where smoking is otherwise not permitted. It is unclear at this point if California’s legalization of Recreational Marijuana might find similar support. My guess is that current smoking restrictions will similarly apply to recreational marijuana.
For anyone involved in providing housing to others, the best way to stay out of legal trouble is to follow the golden rule: treat others as you would want to be treated yourself.
For over 20 years, the attorneys of BPE Law Group, P.C. have been advising and representing Buyers, Sellers, Agents, and Brokers on housing issues and other real estate and business related matters. Check us out on the Web at: www.bpelaw.com. If you would like a consultation with us, please call our office at (916) 966-2260 or e-mail Steve Beede at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The information presented in this Article is not to be taken as legal advice. Every person’s situation is different. If you are facing a legal issue of any kind, get competent legal advice in your State immediately so that you can determine your best options.