Renters who rely on Social Security Disability have no control over when they receive their check in the mail and so landlords who have a blanket policy of demanding rent on the first of the month may have to bend a little to accommodate SSDI recipients, suggests a federal court ruling. First, some backdrop.

Landlords are always a moving target when it comes to costly housing discrimination lawsuits and especially in California, a state which defines discrimination much broader than federal law. Tenants who profess a need for comfort animals or medical cannabis, recipients of housing vouchers, illegal immigrants and several other groups have successfully lobbied for added protections.

With the envelope of protected classes constantly being pushed, landlords find themselves walking on eggshells when denying tenancies or setting rules that may be perceived as favoring any group over another. Although California has defined disability more expansively than the federal government and has carved out new categories of renters entitled to increased safeguards, there are efforts underway in Congress to add teeth to tenant protections. This Kaine-Hatch bill would expand the Fair Housing Act and ban discrimination based on the source of income or veteran status.

Courts warming up, too

Fair Housing Rights Center in Pennsylvania v. Morgan Properties Management Company, LLC is a case that has percolated to our radar after a federal district judge in Pennsylvania ruled that landlords can expose themselves to liability if they refuse to adjust due dates for SSDI recipients who may get their checks after the first of the month. Landlords who do not budge on when the rent is due can create a “disparate impact” on disabled tenants, the court ruled.

Although the case can be considered persuasive law and is not binding in California, it sets a precedent and there is no reason to believe that its logic will not be transplanted in a state that has more ensconced protections than any other in the Union.

Parting thoughts & takeaways

Landlords should always exercise caution when fielding rental applications and talking with tenants on source of income, among other swampy subjects that can invite potential liability. We noted in an earlier post that when it comes to this type of communication, less is more. This is all the more true because there are “testers” who attempt to entrap landlords by documenting acts of discrimination. That’s right – their sole intention is to catch a landlord in the act of violating fair housing laws. In our day and age, then, every request for an accommodation should be treated as a potential test case intended to ensnarl the landlord in a costly lawsuit, the likes of which are proliferating throughout the Bay Area.

Finally,  Bornstein Law admonishes landlords and property managers to establish well thought out policies that are uniform, and we are strong advocates for education. If there is any slip up when it comes to fair housing laws, courts will make no distinction between the landlord and his or her agents.

When in doubt, contact our office for informed advice.

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