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Tenants in California are protected from discrimination in many areas. Anti-discrimination laws mean that a property owner or manager cannot treat one tenant differently from another based on the first tenant’s belonging to a protected category or group. Some examples of discrimination are:
- offering identical apartments at different prices based on tenants’ statuses as members of different ethnic groups
- evicting a household because of a household member’s sexual orientation
- refusing to rent to a couple based on their unmarried status
- refusing to allow a person with a mobility limitation to install grab-bars in their shower.
In cases where a tenant lives with a disabling condition, a property owner or manager can be required to make changes to their normal ways of doing business to make sure they don’t interfere with the tenant’s ability to live in and use their rented home. For example, Jerry lives with a mentally or emotionally disabling condition and has an emotional support animal that has been prescribed as treatment for their condition. Jerry’s property owner or manager is required to take reasonable steps to accommodate Jerry’s possession of the emotional support animal – even if they have a no pets policy! These kinds of allowances are called “reasonable accommodations based on disability” and a tenant can request them in a wide variety of situations.
Some situations where a reasonable accommodation request may be appropriate are listed below. This is not an exhaustive list:
- A tenant has limited mobility and needs more time to move to a new home than the amount given in a notice terminating their tenancy.
- A tenant who is blind needs their property owner/manager to communicate in a method they can interact with (voice recordings, properly formatted electronic text, in person conversations, etc).
- A tenant with a condition that makes sleeping extremely difficult needs to be moved to an empty apartment farther from a busy street than their current apartment.
When you request a reasonable accommodation, do so in a way that creates a record, such as email or USPS mail. If using USPS mail, you can send your letter via “certified mail” so that you have a receipt showing the letter was actually sent – also, keep a copy of your letter!
After you make your reasonable accommodation request, the property owner or manager must respond promptly and dialogue with you to determine how to put your request into practice. Depending on the nature of your disability, the property owner or manager may be able to ask for proof that the accommodation is necessary, and/or to ask for proof of the disability itself (if the nature of the disability is not obvious). However, there are limits on the information that the property owner or manager can ask for – in general, they can’t require information that would be unnecessarily difficult for you to produce. If you have questions about this discussion process, talk to a disability or housing rights attorney, or contact a counselor at Tenant Sanctuary, to go over the details of your situation.
After discussing your need for an accommodation, the property owner or manager has to give you a final decision on whether or not they’ll make your requested accommodations. Even if they decide not to grant a specific accommodation, the property owner or manager still must consider other arrangements that might help address your disability-related needs.
If the property owner or manager refuses to make necessary changes to address your disability-related needs, you may bring a lawsuit in federal or in state court to require the property owner or manager to make those changes. You may also be able to win money from them. If you are threatened with eviction due to a condition related to a disabling condition (such as having an emotional support animal or experiencing a visible mental health crisis that alarms other residents) you may be able to stop the eviction on the basis that the property owner or manager should have granted an accommodation. Speak to a disability or housing-rights attorney before making any decisions about going to court.