Why Does She Get to Have a Dog?

     What’s up with all the dogs everywhere these days?  You see them in the malls (that’s where people shopped before Amazon), in stores (that’s where people shop who don’t shop on Amazon), and even on planes. Don’t get me wrong, I like dogs. In fact, we even entered our dog in the Wienershcnitzel Wiener Nationals one year in San Diego. He ran in one of the two heats for wiener dogs named “Oscar.” I’ll admit, up until they announced that there were two heats for dogs named “Oscar,” I thought the name was original. But once our Oscar started to run the wrong way in the race, I was actually content to leave the venue as quickly as possible. I would say that I crossed that off of our bucket list, but it was never on the bucket list in the first place. But it was a rather unique event, and if you are in San Diego when it is run, it is probably worth the time. But don’t put it on your bucket list . . . at least not if your dog is named “Oscar.”
     One of the problems with the prevalence of dogs everywhere is that it gives a bad name to true service dogs and emotional support animals. As one disgruntled homeowner once put it, “Pay a few $’s on the internet and ‘Presto’ a service dog is born . . . I could ‘certify’ my ceramic toy with THAT process.” I get it. In fact, it kind of makes you wonder if Tom Hanks would have been able to certify Wilson and take it with him on a plane (not that there is some prohibition against volleyballs on planes, but I’m just saying).
Speaking of planes, passengers on planes have tried to take on board with them “service” peacocks, pigs, cats, monkeys, horses, and even a turkey! (It is unclear if the turkey was flying around Thanksgiving.) The point is that service animals have gotten out of hand. But the problem with trying to solve the problem is that people who genuinely need service dogs and emotional support animals are likely to be discarded with all the phonies. And therein lies the problem. How do you tell a genuine need from a phony need?
     The answer is a doctor’s note, right? Genuine claims surely would be recognized by doctors, right? Yet one website announces, “ESA [emotional support animal] letters only $22 each. Same day delivery included.” The website guarantees “official medical signed.” It then touts, “An Emotional Support Animal (ESA) letter from a licensed therapist is all you need to gain legal access to airline cabins and pet restricted housing without extra fees and deposits.” What? You’re not satisfied with a licensed therapist signing the ESA? Then pay a little more and get a medical doctor to sign the ESA. Hey, what’s a few bucks? Think of all the money you will be saving when your dog is flying free of charge! Pet fees at your apartment complex? Forget about it; you’ve got an ESA!
     In the end, the system is being abused. And when it is abused, people with a genuine need for an emotional support animal or a service dog are sadly lumped in with all the people who want to bring “service” animals on board an airplane or those who want to live an apartment complex with their “service” monkeys. In a future post I’ll talk about what you should do if you have a genuine need for a service dog or an emotional support animal. Until then, please, remember that not everyone who has a service animal or an emotional support animal is abusing the system.

How do you Prove Discrimination?

It is one thing to suspect that an onsite manager is discriminating against a tenant, and it is quite another thing to actually prove that discrimination is actually occurring or has occurred. How is discrimination proved? Is it a case of Justice Stewart’s “I know it when I see it”? Maybe sometimes, but herein we will look at a few ways to prove discrimination.

First, the Federal Rules of Evidence state that evidence of historical discrimination may be admitted to prove motive, opportunity, intent, preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, absence of mistake, or lack of accident. Fed. R. Evid. 404(b)(2). But what does that look like practically? By way of example, if an apartment complex has historically discriminated against a particular protected class, for example, families with children, then that evidence can be presented to prove that the complained of action against a family with children is evidence of its intent to discriminate against the family with children that is currently complaining about discriminatory treatment.

One problem that is faced when trying to use this type of evidence is that it is not readily available. As is common knowledge, most lawsuits settle. As a result, there is no finding of discrimination which can be used as evidence in a subsequent lawsuit. If the previous lawsuit is recent, then witnesses of that discrimination can be interviewed, and they may be able to testify about incidents of discrimination, but historical discrimination is simply not common place. Be that as it may, it is always wise to check to see if the party that you believe is discriminating has a past record of discrimination. If so, then you’ve found some great evidence.

Next, discriminatory acts towards third parties may be used to show actions taken against the plaintiff were motivated by discrimination. Metoyer v. Chassman, 504 F.3d 919, 937 (9th Cir. 2007). This is the type of evidence that can be helpful if there was no finding of discrimination in a prior case. This type of evidence, however, can be difficult to acquire because tenants who are still living in a complex that discriminated against them are reluctant to testify against their current manager for fear of retaliation. And tenants who have vacated a complex can be tough to track down, not to mention the fact that they may be apathetic now that they are no longer impacted by the discrimination. Nevertheless, if a third party were discriminated against and is willing to testify about it, and that third party shares the same protected class as the plaintiff, then this evidence can be extremely compelling. For when a similarly-situated person says, “That happened to me, too,” then it serves as great evidence of discrimination.

Departures from normal procedures likewise may afford evidence that improper purposes are playing a role. Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 267, 97 S.Ct. 555 (1977). I once reviewed the tenant files for a large apartment complex for evidence of discrimination against families with children. After reviewing several files, it became obvious that the complex required certain information and documentation from prospective new tenants. But whenever I reviewed an African American’s tenant file, their files contained additional documentation, most notably Social Security cards and copies of their drivers’ licenses. No such documentation showed up in any white tenants’ files. It was disturbing. In short, there was a departure from the normal procedure for determining whether a tenant was qualified to rent whenever an African American submitted an application to rent. The landlord, briefly stated, required more of African Americans to become tenants. It didn’t exclude prospective African American tenants altogether, but it definitely required more of them. That, my friends, is what is known as discriminatory treatment.

Substantive departures also may be relevant, particularly if the factors usually considered important by the decision maker strongly favor a decision contrary to the one reached. I once ran across an apartment complex policy that mandated that tenants be served late notices if their rent was more than three days late. Based on the documents that I reviewed, the complex followed the policy to the tee when it came to families with children. But when single adults were more than three days late on their rent, then it was never a problem. The decision maker (i.e., the manager), candidly speaking, usually departed from the company’s policy of issuing late notices whenever a single adult was the offending party. I subsequently called many of these single adults, and I was told that they simply had to let the manager know that they were going to be late, and it was “no problem.” When I spoke to the tenants who had children about their late payments, they described the manager as merciless when it came to paying late. This is the type of discrimination that can be difficult to detect, for it looks like the manager is simply enforcing a reasonable rule. Let me encourage you to dig deeper, particularly when you, like Justice Stewart, sense that something is not right.

Eviction Notices and the Trauma that Follows

An eviction notice, also known as a 30-day notice to terminate tenancy (or if tenants have lived somewhere for more than a year in California, then it would be a 60-day notice to terminate tenancy), can be the worst notice tenants ever receive. Not only are the tenants forced to move out in short order, often the tenants have not been looking for a new place to live, so the tenants are forced to scramble to find a new place. What is worse, the tenants also have to potentially come up with a first and last month’s rent and a security deposit for the new place. Tenants with pets face the additional burden of coming up with a pet deposit. Most tenants that I know don’t have that kind of spare money lying around, so that means either putting it onto a credit card (by way of cash advance) or borrowing the money from friends or family. Needless to say, that alone will bring further stress into the tenants’ lives because nobody truly likes to loan money, and no one likes to ask for loans. Plain and simple, it’s embarrassing. On top of all this, the tenants may not have time to get away from work to look for a new place, so that will bring added stress. If the tenants are lucky, then they actually will find a place to move to within the 30 or 60 days. If they don’t, then they will face an eviction lawsuit (known as an unlawful detainer), and if they still cannot find a place to live and they lose the lawsuit (a likely result), then the sheriff will be summoned to physically remove them from the rental premises. This can be devastating.

So what should tenants do if they are served with a 30 or 60-day notice to terminate their tenancy? First, they should ask their landlord why it was served upon them. While a landlord is not required to give a reason for the eviction notice, a landlord is also not allowed to serve an eviction notice for an illegal reason (e.g., because the new landlord doesn’t like young children living at the complex). Sometimes a landlord will tell tenants why they are being evicted. This can be very helpful if a lawsuit is eventually filed against the landlord. Next, the tenants must immediately look for a new place to live. Even if tenants believe that they have been wrongfully served the eviction notice, they must put all of their effort into finding a new place to live ASAP. (Technically, a lawsuit can be filed against a landlord in certain situations even before the landlord files an unlawful detainer action against the tenants to actually prevent the landlord from trying to evict the tenants in the first place, but that is too complex of an issue to discuss in a short article, so if you have questions, then feel free to email.) Once the tenants find a new place to live, then it makes sense to try to figure out why the eviction notice was served upon them. It may be that the tenants have been the victims of housing discrimination, or it may be that the tenants simply were not the greatest tenants (e.g., consistently late on payments, frequent late night parties, etc.). Either way, evictions are traumatic. Illegal evictions, however, should not be tolerated. If you think that you have been the victim of an illegal eviction, then feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

Sidewalk Chalk

As I was on my morning walk today I happened to walk past two driveways that had hopscotch boxes drawn on them with sidewalk chalk. It reminded me of my childhood when I used to play jacks and hopscotch on summer days. Obviously, some of the children in the neighborhood were having fun this weekend. At times tenants, sadly, will call me to tell me that the onsite manager has told them that their children are not allowed to write on the sidewalks with sidewalk chalk. I’m always appalled when I hear this, for there is nothing more childlike then kids writing all over the ground with sidewalk chalk. Besides hopscotch boxes, many flowers, hearts, and silly drawings are made by children with sidewalk chalk. The wonderful thing about sidewalk chalk is that it can be washed off in seconds with a hose or a bucket of water. But apartment managers don’t like sidewalk chalk. In the words of one apartment manager in Fresno, “the drawings are ugly.” Ugly? Really? While apartments are free to make up whatever rules they want for their complex, apartments are not allowed to create hostile environments for families with children. While a rule against using sidewalk chalk by itself would not amount to the creation of a hostile environment for families with children, it may be one indicator of a dislike or discrimination toward children. For often when I hear of children not being able to use sidewalk chalk, I also hear about children not being able to play outside without adult supervision. Sometimes I also hear about curfews that are only enforced against children. I also hear of threats to evict families if the children continue to draw with sidewalk chalk. Put simply, if the manager or the owner is telling you that your kids can’t use sidewalk chalk on the sidewalks, then the writing may be on the wall that they’ve got something against families with children, even if they are willing to rent to them.

Independence Day

On July 4, 1776, our country declared its independence from the reign of King George III of England by executing the Declaration of Independence. As a country, we had no desire to remain under the reign of King George III. But merely signing a piece of paper didn’t end the matter, for England had no desire to set us free. As a result, the Revolutionary War ensued and lasted for seven years. Finally, the war came to an end in 1781 with a decisive American victory at Yorktown, Virginia.

The Revolutionary War serves as a reminder that we have to fight for what we believe in, especially when it means living in conditions that are unacceptable to us. It isn’t enough to simply declare things are wrong; we have to be willing to put blood, sweat, and tears behind what we believe in. Every lawsuit that we file is a declaration that something is wrong. A battle then ensues. In law, most of those battles are eventually settled and a certain form of independence is gained by the clients. But independence is never gained until a declaration is made and a battle is fought. So don’t sit back hoping that things are going to change. They usually won’t. Indeed, Independence Day is celebrated in America today because the first citizens of our country were fed up with the status quo and did something about it. May you follow their courageous lead when you find yourself living under conditions that are unacceptable.

Why Children Cannot Play Outside at an Apartment Complex

Over the years I’ve heard one excuse after another as to why children cannot play outside or with toys at apartment complexes. But there is a common excuse that landlords and managers bring up over and over. It’s sort of like a sports team running its favorite play over and over because it works. What is the most common excuse? Safety. To give you an example, in one housing discrimination case that I had in Fresno, a landlord told the tenants that their children could not play in the common areas of the apartment complex for the safety of the children. Granted, the common areas were the only place to play in the apartment complex, but what’s a small detail like that? But isn’t it nice to know that apartment complexes actually care about the safety of the children? To be brutally honest, while many apartment complexes claim that they are concerned about the safety of the children, often what they are more concerned about is a quiet apartment complex, for it is much easier to rent apartments if the complex is quiet. In another housing discrimination case that I had in Los Angeles, an apartment manager threatened to evict my clients if their young daughter did not put her feet inside her apartment. The young lady had been reading a book in her doorway because the landlord forbid children from playing in the common areas. Other children had been threatened because they had been playing their handheld games in their doorways. This apartment complex, not surprisingly, had a rule that required children to be immediately supervised at all times. Why? For the children’s safety, of course. In yet another housing discrimination case in Fresno, a landlord forbid children from using sidewalk chalk in the common areas. You know that dreaded sidewalk chalk: it takes at least 30 seconds to remove it with a hose! When the mother was served a notice because of her daughter having drawn with chalk on the sidewalk, the mother asked why the manager had served the notice. The manager said the chalk drawing was ugly, and she was trying to rent out the apartment next door. Another landlord in Los Angeles not only forbid children from playing in the common areas of the apartment complex, but decided that children should not be able to play on the enclosed patios of their apartments because it made too much noise (and heaven forbid any of those graveyard workers be awakened in the middle of the day!). But then the onsite manager took it one step further and said that children under 14 years of age couldn’t even sit on the patios. When my clients objected to the limitations, the management said that my clients were free to move to another apartment complex that would be more fitting to them. Isn’t that a wonderful solution? Another apartment complex in Fresno had a 10 p.m. curfew . . . for children. While I believe that children should be home by 10 p.m., the law clearly lets parents decide when children must be inside; that’s not the apartment complex’s domain. Another housing discrimination case that I had in San Diego involved an owner who told my client that “I can’t put ‘no kids’ in the advertisements because that would be discrimination, but I ask a lot of questions to make sure it doesn’t happen.” Later, my client took in a baby on an emergency situation. Before long, the owner sent her a notice stating, “You are in clear violation of your lease, specifically paragraph 8 which sets forth the premises you rented is for your use only. In blatant violation of said provision, you have brought into the premises a minor child purporting an emergency guardianship.” In yet another case a landlord in Sacramento refused to rent an upstairs apartment to my clients because they had young children. The landlord’s reason: an upstairs apartment wouldn’t be safe for the children. In San Diego, another family was denied their request to move to an upstairs apartment because they had young children. The manager suggested that maybe it was time for the tenants to get a house so that the kids could run around outside. In conclusion, if your landlord or the manager starts resorting to the safety excuse, then it is probably a safe bet that something is wrong. Don’t put up with such nonsense any longer. Your children deserve to be able to go out and play, particularly during summer. We are here to help make sure no landlord ever subjects your children to ridiculous rules in the name of “safety.”

Top 5 Landlord Excuses to Potential New Tenants

When landlords don’t want to rent to someone who is actually qualified to rent an apartment, then they have to resort to excuses to get rid of well-qualified rental applicants. Here are the top 5 landlord excuses given to potential new tenants:
1. I’m sorry, but we just rented out that unit.
2. The unit that I have available is just too small for your family.
3. I don’t think that you would really like living here.
4. There was something in your credit report that prevents us from renting you the apartment.
5. We don’t rent upstairs apartments to families with young children.

If you suspect that the landlord is giving you the run around about why the apartment that was available is no longer available, then give us a call. We’ll talk with you about what you have experienced and let you know if there is any way we can help you.

Do Muslims Have the Right to Live in Any Apartment?

Yes, a Muslim can live in any apartment, provided he or she is qualified to do so. But the problem is that in this day and age some landlords don’t want to rent to Muslims, even if they are qualified to rent the apartment. So landlords become crafty at finding ways to deny apartments to qualified Muslims. For example, a qualified Muslim may be told that the last apartment was just rented that afternoon. Or the landlord may tell a qualified Muslim that his or her credit score just isn’t high enough or they don’t have the required income to rent the apartment. Qualified Muslim applicants may be told that they would probably feel more comfortable near the local mosque. Put simply, if you think the apartment manager is lying to you about why he or she does not want to rent you an apartment, and you are otherwise qualified to rent the apartment, then it may be that it is due to the fact that you are a Muslim. The Fair Housing Act forbids landlords from refusing to negotiate with someone for the rental of an apartment because of that person’s religion.

Can You Stop an Eviction?

Often times landlords try to evict tenants because their children are supposedly too loud. Evictions are tough on tenants because there is such a short time frame between the time that an eviction notice is served on the tenants and the date on which the court will hold the unlawful detainer hearing (i.e., the eviction proceeding). First and foremost, if you are facing an eviction, then there is no time to lose. Act quickly. There are occasions when an eviction can be stopped because of unlawful discrimination, but you need to move very quickly. If you suspect that your landlord is evicting you because of the fact that you have children, then pick up the phone and call us. If we believe that there is a fighting chance to stop the eviction, then we will let you know.

There is No Place Like Home

“There is no place like home,” Dorothy told us in the Wizard of Oz. But if you are a tenant being discriminated against by your landlord (or the management company), then home can be the worst place in the world, even if you live in an apartment in beautiful San Diego or up the coast in a homeowners’ association in San Francisco.  If you believe that your landlord is discriminating against you because you have children, or if the management company is discriminating against you because you are a different race from your landlord or the manager, or if you are being singled out because you are from a different country, etc., then we are here to help you, to protect your rights, and to bring about change.  So whether your landlord is threatening to evict you because your children have been playing outside or because your landlord objects to the religious sign in your apartment window or because you are a single mom who hasn’t been supervising your children while they are playing outside, we are here to fight fiercely on your behalf. Fair housing laws prevent landlords, managers, and management companies from discriminating against tenants, including families with children. Fair housing laws also prevent landlords from discriminating against tenants because of, among other things, their race, religion, national origin, or color.  Put simply, if you believe that you are being treated unfairly, then please contact us.  There are laws to protect your rights as a tenant. It’s time to take a stand against housing discrimination. Today is the day to take that stand.