Brief Fact Summary.
Plaintiff’s rental policy excluded families with children or pregnant women. Defendants refused to surrender their apartment after they had a son. Plaintiff sued Defendants for an unlawful detainer of Defendants’ apartment.The trial court held that children and families with children were not protected from housing discrimination because they are not included in any statute or case law.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
A lessor may not categorically exclude any class of people.
In January 1974, the Wolfsons (Defendants) became tenants in a building owned by Marina Point Ltd. (Plaintiff). Plaintiff’s rental policy excluded families with children or pregnant women, although at the time, many of its tenants had minor children. Plaintiff decided that any existing children could remain but that it would not allow any more children going forward. In September 1975, Mrs. Wolfson gave birth to a son, Adam, who then lived with them. Defendants renewed their lease without informing Plaintiff about their new son. Plaintiff later refused to renew the lease because of Adam. When Defendants failed to surrender the apartment at the end of their lease, Plaintiff filed an unlawful detainer action. Defendants claimed that Plaintiff’s discrimination against families with children violated the Unruh Civil Rights Act. Plaintiff argued that their exclusionary policy was based on past experiences with unruly and disruptive children. It also presented expert, but anecdotal, testimony that maintenance costs increase if there are children. But it did not present any evidence that Adam had ever been disruptive. The trial court held that children and families with children were not protected from housing discrimination because they are not included in any statute or case law.
Whether a lessor can categorically exclude any class of people.
No. The trial court’s ruling is reversed. A lessor may not categorically exclude any class of people.
(Richardson, J.):While wholesale discrimination against children should be prohibited, it is also true that middle-age or older citizens, having worked all their lives, having finished raising their own children, and having paid their taxes and dues to society, should be able to live in a quiet and tranquil environment of their own choice.
In interpreting the Unruh Civil Rights Act, this court has previously held that its list of protected classes is illustrative and not exhaustive. The fact that children and families with children are not expressly protected by statute or case law does not put a particular class beyond the scope of the Unruh Act. This court has also held that the act prohibits discrimination against an entire class of individuals in an attempt to eliminate the characteristics associated with that class. A lessor may adopt reasonable rules to regulate the conduct of tenants and to exclude any person that violates those rules. However, an individual who has not violated such rules cannot be excluded solely because he is a member of a class of persons whom the lessor believes is more likely to have some undesirable characteristic than another group might. Here, Plaintiff is attempting to categorically exclude all children because they tend to be disruptive and cause an increase in maintenance costs. It argues that this is a reasonable basis for excluding minor children. However, it has not shown that Adam is actually disruptive in any way. Therefore, Plaintiff’s blanket prohibition is arbitrary and unlawful.