It's illegal to reject rental applicant just because she has no job

If would-be tenants prove they could pay rent, then by law, source of income can't matter to landlord

Question: I am a widow who received a significant sum as a result of life insurance and the sale of our house when my husband died. As a result of this life-changing event, I need to move and I decided to rent rather than buy a new house.

I found a lovely apartment and submitted an application, but the rental agent rejected it out of hand, saying that I have no evidence of regular income. This is true, because I don't need to work because of the inheritance, and I am too young to receive Social Security or pension benefits.

I have sufficient money in the bank and my investment accounts to pay any reasonable rent for a number of years, but when I explained my finances to the rental agent, he insisted that I must have proof of current income to rent the apartment. What am I supposed to do?

Answer: Under California fair housing laws, it is illegal for a housing provider to refuse to rent to an applicant because of the source of the applicant's income, so long as the rental applicant can prove financial ability to pay the rent. Here, the rental agent's rejection of your application because you do not have current employment income appears to violate these laws.

This law is intended to protect persons who are retired, disabled or living on government benefits from being discriminated against in housing because their income comes from sources other than a current job. The alternative income source has to be reliable, however, and the amount of the income still must meet the landlord's minimum income standards.

To increase your chances of obtaining a rental, you may consider offering to show a prospective landlord your credit report, bank statements, government benefit stubs or other verification of your income as well as prior rental references. You also could offer to pay the maximum security deposit allowable by law.

If you are still refused a rental based on your lack of current employment income, you have the option of contacting a fair housing agency to ask for an investigation of your problem, or you may file a housing discrimination complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

Van Deursen is director of Dispute Resolution Programs for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. Send questions to info@housing.org.

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