Question: It has been very tough finding a new apartment in today's rental market. I finally found an apartment that I love, but the property manager said she doesn't think it's a good fit.
When I asked her why, she said she noticed that I use a cane and the apartment is on the second floor without elevator access. She told me she felt that I could not constantly climb the stairs without hurting myself. She said that there should be a ground-floor unit available soon, which would be better for me. I appreciate her concern for my health, but I want the apartment on the second floor. Is there anything I can do to persuade her to rent it to me?
Answer: The manager you met may have had good intentions, but discouraging you from renting a second-floor apartment and redirecting you to a first-floor apartment probably constitutes housing discrimination based on your disability.
If you have a disability within the meaning of the fair housing statutes, both federal and state fair housing laws prohibit the manager from refusing to rent the second-floor apartment to you because you appear to have a mobility impairment. Even if she only discouraged you from renting that apartment, instead of an outright refusal, her action would still be a violation.
If you have a disability, you and only you are the best and most appropriate judge of your housing needs and physical capabilities. Attempting to persuade you to wait for the first-floor apartment is not a valid alternative. Such a practice is considered "steering," which deprives you of your right to choose your housing.
You might want to consider contacting your local fair housing agency. If the manager was motivated by good intentions, the agency can educate her to help her gain an accurate understanding of disabled tenants' legal rights.
If education is not effective, the fair housing organization may also help you file a housing discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing or the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Eichner is director of Housing Counseling Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to email@example.com.