A landlord can’t ban certain visitors because of race
Question: I am white, but I have a stepbrother who is black and we are very close. I recently moved into an apartment in a small building, and my landlord lives in the apartment across from mine.
Everything was fine, but two weeks ago I had my brother over for dinner and my landlord saw him outside on the way to my apartment. She immediately became hostile and demanded that he leave.
The landlord then called me and asked why I was letting “dangerous people” visit me. I told her that the visitor was my brother and that he was not dangerous.
My landlord then told me that I was not allowed to have my brother over as a guest because she wanted to “keep the house safe” and did not want “dangerous people” on the property. I told her that I didn’t think she could stop my brother from visiting me and reiterated that he was not dangerous in any way.
The following week, I was issued a “60-Day Termination of Tenancy” notice. This doesn’t seem right, but I am not sure what to do. Can you advise me?
Answer: Based on what you’ve told us, it certainly seems as if your landlord may have been reacting to your brother’s race, although you would want a fair housing agency to investigate further to be sure. Here, your landlord knew nothing about your brother except that he was black, and yet she jumped to the conclusion that he was “dangerous.” Assuming that he was not behaving in a way that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that he was dangerous, her conclusion could well be based on a racial stereotype.
But what makes this situation a little different from most fair housing cases is that the landlord’s apparent prejudice is not directed specifically at you, her tenant, but to your brother, a visitor.
Fair housing laws protect the right of all tenants to live in a rental property without interference or discrimination, regardless of race, and this includes the right to associate with anyone you choose, regardless of the race of the individual with whom you choose to associate. This means that your landlord cannot prohibit you from having visitors who are black, or of a particular national origin or religion, or of a specific gender or in any other way related to a protected class.
Here, by prohibiting your brother from visiting you apparently for no reason other than his race, and then serving you with a termination notice when you didn’t agree to keep him off the property, the landlord may well have violated your fair housing rights.
You should contact your closest fair housing agency as soon as possible to get its assistance in investigating this case more fully. You can also file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing.
Current is fair housing director for Project Sentinel, a Bay Area nonprofit. For more information, contact Project Sentinel at 1-888-324-7468, email@example.com, visit www.housing.org or contact your attorney or local housing agency.
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