AG Announces Guidance to Prevent Discriminatory Housing Practices

Photo by Kimson Doan on Unsplash

Local municipalities put on notice regarding the adverse effects of Crime-Free Housing policies and urged to comply with federal and state fair housing laws

Special to the Vanguard

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Friday statewide guidance to address Crime-Free Housing policies that disproportionally discriminate against people of color, survivors of domestic violence, people with disabilities, and justice-involved individuals.

Crime-Free Housing policies can compound the impact of racial and ethnic disparities in the criminal justice system by replicating those inequalities in the housing system.

The California Department of Justice will provide the guidance issued today to all cities and counties throughout California to urge local municipalities to review and potentially reconsider aspects of their Crime-Free Housing policies to ensure compliance with civil rights laws and fair housing regulations.

“In California, we’re taking action to end housing discrimination and foster diverse communities,” said Attorney General Bonta. “The statewide guidance issued today presents clear legal standards and procedures to proactively prevent discriminatory housing practices within localities. Tenants have rights under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and other California laws that protect against many forms of housing discrimination, and this guide aims to ensure we are eliminating barriers to housing and promoting equal opportunities.”

Hundreds of cities and counties within California have adopted Crime-Free Housing ordinances or programs in the past few decades. These policies may induce property owners to use tenant screening tactics that are prohibited by California law. In particular, landlords may evict tenants based on their calls seeking law enforcement assistance—for example, in response to domestic violence—or based on mere allegations of criminal activity, rather than convictions.

Discriminatory housing restrictions have historically been used to perpetuate racial segregation in communities. The state guidance on Crime-Free Housing policies highlights local jurisdictions’ obligations under federal and state law to ensure equal access to housing. Local jurisdictions should be particularly mindful of the following ways in which Crime-Free Housing policies may run afoul of the state Fair Employment and Housing Act and/or the federal Fair Housing Act:

  • Using dehumanizing, derogatory, or racially charged or coded language in any local policies and ordinances, including but not limited to any training materials, manuals, and workbooks on Crime-Free Housing policies;
  • Instructing or encouraging property owners to adopt screening practices or rental policies under which landlords broadly deny tenancy to applicants with any criminal history or encourage tenants to “screen themselves” on that basis;
  • Initiating evictions or directing or inducing landlords to evict tenants based solely on arrests or other interactions with law enforcement rather than convictions; and
  • Taking adverse actions against tenants who seek law enforcement assistance or discouraging tenants from seeking such assistance.

The Attorney General’s office has the authority to investigate local jurisdictions if they are found to be violating any California or federal housing laws.

A copy of the statewide guidance can be found here.

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      1. Ron Oertel

        Well, if he doesn’t want to look at clearly-discriminatory housing programs, he indeed might overlook one that discriminates against senior people of color.

        But as far as the “totality” of the Davis market, I’m not sure what you mean (in regard to legalized discrimination).

        My guess is that he might seek to strike-down any baseline features and development agreements (which prevent state mandates) on parcels that are annexed to the city.

        1. David Greenwald

          “clearly-discriminatory housing program”

          How do you think he’s going to view Measure J? You’re focused on a tiny project rather than a whole city policy.

        2. Ron Oertel

          Look at my comment again, as it addresses all Measure J approvals:

          My guess is that he might seek to strike-down any baseline features and development agreements (which prevent state mandates) on parcels that are annexed to the city.

          I don’t see any possibility that Bonta would view (for example) a 400-acre Covell Village II as “exempt” from the “Builder’s Remedy”. And that “remedy” would be easier to pursue on farmland, as there’s no buildings to tear down.

          On the other hand, I don’t see him (or the courts) as being likely to “force annexations” in the first place.

          So ironically, the state mandates might doom ANY proposals from being approved by voters. Which, needless to say – I’d find amusing.

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