“I’ve got my rights,” actors say in the movies all the time as the police arrest them. But have you ever stopped to think: what rights do I have? We’ve all heard of the Miranda rights that are read to people as they are being arrested. “You have the right to remain silent (don’t you wish your neighbor would exercise that one!) . . .” The Miranda rights are what are known as criminal rights. But when it comes to tenants’ rights, then we are dealing with what are known as civil rights. Civil rights, essentially, are rights that you have as a member of our society that are separate and distinct from your criminal rights. But what civil rights do tenants have? In the fair housing context, tenants have the civil right to live in a place that is free of discrimination because of race, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, etc. So the next time that you hear of a civil rights lawsuit, realize that it may be something as simple as a landlord refusing to rent an upstairs apartment to a family with children. Or in this day and age, it may be a manager refusing to rent to a Muslim couple. If you feel like your landlord or the management company has violated your civil rights, then do something about it.
Are mobile home parks governed by any housing discrimination laws? Absolutely. The federal Fair Housing Act protects all “dwellings,” which is defined to include mobile home parks that are occupied as, or designed or intended for occupancy as, a residence by one of more families. So if you live in a mobile home park, and your landlord starts telling you things such as, “Hey, can you stop having your black visitors come over; they’re scaring my tenants,” then get in touch with the Law Offices of Stuart E. Fagan at www.sfaganlaw.com.
All too often it happens. A child is playing in the common areas of an apartment complex and he or she lets out a shout of excitement. The next thing you know, out comes the apartment manager and he or she tells the child to “Get inside, now! There is no screaming out here!” Is this wrong? In most cases, yes, it is wrong. But what can be done about it? Recently I heard from a tenant in Los Angeles whose children were forbidden from riding their bikes in the complex’s driveway, for they were supposedly disturbing one of the tenants who worked nights. As a result, the manager refused to let the children ride their bikes on the property. To make matters worse, the children were under ten years old and lived on a busy street. As such, the tenants had to choose between forbidding their children from riding their bikes on the premises and letting them ride on the sidewalk next to a busy street. In that case, the landlord was preventing children from enjoying the use of the premises because of the landlord’s desire to let the adult tenant sleep. In other words, the landlord was giving preference to the adult. In law, we call that discrimination.
Voltaire, the French writer and historian, said it best: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Yes, Christmas and Hanukkah are just around the corner. And, yes, the past few years have shown us that just around the corner are landlord-tenant disputes over the display of signs that say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Hanukkah” or “Season’s Greetings.” But does the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) apply to such claims? Is it wrong for a landlord to forbid tenants from putting up signs in their windows that have a religious message? In October, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals answered the first question in the affirmative, stating, “In our view, the FHA does apply to [such] discrimination . . .” Committee Concerning Community v. Modesto, Case No. 07-16715 (9th Cir. Oct. 8, 2009) at *14397. The Ninth Circuit’s decision is encouraging, for some of our nation’s highest courts have held that the Fair Housing Act does not apply to such claims. In time, it appears that the U.S. Supreme Court will have to intervene and determine the issue once and for all.
In the meantime, what happens if a tenant’s landlord says, “Take down the picture of the menorah in your window?” or “You cannot tack to your door a sign that says ‘Merry Christmas’ or ‘Happy Birthday, Jesus’ because it might offend someone?” Do the landlord’s statements violate the Fair Housing Act?
For over 11 years, I have been fighting on behalf of tenants whose rights have been violated under the Fair Housing Act and related California laws, including the Fair Employment & Housing Act. This holiday season, I am gearing up for such battles. So if you need such special attention, then, please, contact me, and I’ll take care of the problem. Until then, if you would like to see a list of FAQs regarding the Fair Housing Act, then please visit my new website athttp://www.sfaganlaw.com./ If I can answer any questions, please, do not hesitate to contact me at (858) 220-9601.