Oakland, CA landlord settles marital status discrimination complaint

Oakland, CA -- The fight for fair housing has won a major victory this week, with the owner of an apartment complex in Oakland, California agreeing to pay $4,000 to settle a marital status discrimination complaint. In December 1998, Renee contacted Sentinel Fair Housing, alleging that her landlady harassed her and forced her to relocate because she was a single, unmarried woman. The complaint has just been conciliated by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1985. For 3 1/2 years, Renee lived in her unit, working full-time while pursuing her Associate Arts Degree. In November 1998, as term papers and final exams approached, Renee frequently studied with a study group. On several occasions Renee’s classmates would leave in the early morning hours, and Renee would see her landlady peering out her window watching Renee’s classmates depart. Renee thought nothing of it, and continued to prepare for the end of the school term.

That December, Renee went to her landlady’s apartment to pay her rent. After inviting her in, her landlady stated that she saw a male classmate depart in the early morning on several occasions. Before Renee had an opportunity to respond, her landlady allegedly told her that what she was doing "wasn’t right", and that she was "sinning", and "going against God". The landlady allegedly stated that pre-marital sex would lead Renee down a very destructive road. Speechless, Renee walked out of the unit without responding.

One week after the incident, the landlady gave Renee a new lease containing an overly restrictive guest policy, and stated that if she did not sign it she would have to move. Renee sought the advice of Sentinel Fair Housing. Before the Sentinel Fair Housing counselor could intervene, the landlady gave Renee a 30-Day Notice to move. Renee began looking for a new apartment, and was forced to withdraw from school for the spring semester to meet the 30-Day deadline. Sentinel Fair Housing counseled Renee about the fair housing laws, her rights, and her options. Renee elected to file with the complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing [DFEH], stating that her landlord violated fair housing laws by harassing her because she was a single, unmarried woman.

The complaint was filed with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing in February 1999, and this week it was successfully conciliated. While under the conciliation agreement the landlord admitted no wrongdoing, the tenant received $4,000 for moving expenses, and distress. Under the terms of the agreement, the landlord is required to attend a fair housing training session. "This is a victory for all unmarried individuals who have the right to live free from discrimination, intimidation, and harassment in the State of California," said Mona Breed, Executive Director of Sentinel Fair Housing. "We are pleased to have worked with DFEH in successfully conciliating this matter. Now Renee has some sense of resolution, and she can go back to school to get her degree," said Breed. "I hope that anyone else who finds themselves in this situation, or a victim of discrimination of any kind, will contact Sentinel Fair Housing to find out about their rights."