April 2019

When Fair Housing Isn’t

April 2019

April is Fair Housing Month and with it comes several new fair housing bills out of Sacramento. In light of that, it seems appropriate to address the purpose of Fair Housing laws and whether there is a connection between the justifiable and need protections under our discrimination laws and the legislation.

 

Fair housing laws are designed to provide protections to individuals against discriminatory housing practices based on immutable protected classes of individuals. No honest person denies the need for fair housing laws to protect people from discriminatory practices. However, in the recent wave of tenant protections and anti-owner sentiment, many of the newly proposed laws go far beyond “fair” and could result in unintended consequences. Below are examples of what can only be called “unfair” fair housing bills.

 

SB 218 (Bradford) is an anti-discrimination bill which could result in a hodge-podge of legal chaos among the cities of California. Specifically, existing law declares the State’s legislative intent to “occupy the field of regulation of discrimination in employment and housing.” In other words, California uniformly establishes and enforces the State’s fair housing and employment laws and regulations. However, under SB 281, each city will be permitted to adopt, investigate, and enforce its own discrimination laws, thereby creating the possibility of confusion and exposure to legal liability for owners, applicants and tenants. In addition to the bureaucratic nightmare that will cause, the legal implications for owners who own properties in multiple cities are significant. Knowledge of and compliance with the various versions of the discrimination laws will become difficult and cumbersome at best, especially for an owner who has multiple employees working at different locations in different cities, all requiring different training requirements. While this bill attempts to expand the cities’ abilities to create their own laws, the bills below all act to expand the categories of individuals who are considered a “protected” class under state law, let alone under a local law which should be different in interpretation and enforcement. Everyone will suffer should SB 218 become law.

 

AB 53 (Sawyer) attempts to provide “protected class” status to convicted felons. Let that sink in for a moment… an applicant who has been convicted of a felony would have various protections afforded, as if being a convicted felon were somehow an immutable characteristic, such as race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation or national origin. The gist of it will require an owner to pull a vacant unit off the market while working through a lengthy five-step process to determine whether the applicant has been wrongly accused (inaccuracy of a criminal record), whether rehabilitation has taken place, or whether there were any “mitigating factors” surrounding the conviction or rehabilitation before the owner may deny housing to the applicant. The five-step process will result in the removal of the rental unit for up to a month while the applicant gathers and submits the required information and the owner works through the required steps.

 

AB 440 and SB 222 propose to extend “protected class” status to victims of domestic violence and veterans, respectively. Before anyone gets their feathers ruffled, keep in mind that this Association has always been at the forefront of legislation extending significant protections to both groups and we will continue to do so. For example, we were actively involved in the writing and evolution of protecting victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking in rental housing for over a decade.

 

When you take a step back and review the fair housing bills currently being considered, two aspects of the situation become apparent. First, the expansion of those to whom we afford “protected class” status will act to diminish the validity of the protected classes in existence. This is even more so when one considers that we, as a state, are contemplating making convicted felons a protected class (notwithstanding the fact that doing so actually rewards the very behavior and decision making for which we put them in jail).

 

Second, the fact that a legislator thinks it is a good idea to allow each city in California to develop, investigate and enforce their own discrimination laws which will harm everyone involved demonstrates the lack of meaningful thought coming out of Sacramento right now.