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Fair Housing Laws in California

Non-discrimination laws in California are some of the most comprehensive in the country.


California—along with the rest of the United States—complies with the federal Fair Housing Act, which shields certain groups from housing discrimination. But California state law also broadens these protections significantly.

California's fair housing laws protect more renters from discrimination

The federal Fair Housing Act includes seven protected classes, including race and gender. Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)1 and the Unruh Civil Rights Act,2 California also outlaws discrimination based on:

  • Age (over 40 years)
  • Ancestry
  • Arbitrary discrimination
  • Citizenship
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Genetic information
  • Immigration status
  • Marital status
  • Medical condition
  • Primary language
  • Sexual orientation
  • Source of income

"Marital status" applies to unmarried couples, too

In many states, “marital status” only protects married couples from housing discrimination—in Illinois, for instance, unmarried couples can legally be turned away from rentals. In California, however, FEHA expressly prohibits landlords from asking (either in writing or in person) about an individual’s marital status at all, which implies protection for all relationship statuses.3 Case law has strengthened and defined this protection: In 1996, the California Supreme Court held that unmarried couples receive the same protection as married couples under FEHA.4

Fewer types of housing are exempt in California

Certain types of rental housing are exempt from the federal Fair Housing Act, including owner-occupied buildings with fewer than four units. In California, state law tightens these exemptions so just three types of rental housing are excluded from fair housing laws:5

  • Owner-occupied, single-family homes when only one tenant is to live in the house (and the owner has not published discriminatory advertisements or notices)
  • Shared living situations that express a stated preference for same-sex roommates
  • Housing operated by a private club or organization that is limited to its members

Keep in mind, however, that the federal Civil Rights Act of 1866 does not permit exceptions in regards to race. It is always illegal to discriminate on the basis of race when renting.


[1] Cal. Gov’t. Code §§ 12900–12996

[2] Cal. Civ. Code § 51

[3] Cal. Gov’t. Code § 12955(b)

[4] Smith v. Fair Employment & Housing Com. (1996)

[5] Cal. Gov’t Code § 12927(c)(2)

The information provided on this website does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice.



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