Housing Rights is a multi-faceted issue: (1) is there a ‘right to housing’?; (2) the right to be free from illegal housing discrimination; (3) rights we have as tenants; and (4) rights of homeowners, especially new rights for homeowners during the foreclosure process and against predatory lending.
Right to housing. There is no legal right to housing in the United States. Many of us believe that there is a moral right. However, the growing numbers of individuals and households that are homeless prove that the legal right would be more useful. There are national and local groups working on this issue, yet the United States has not ratified the UN treaty, which includes the right to housing. These groups are also working on strategies to influence the UN review of our country and on using UN or international law to positively impact housing conditions in the United States.
California was one of the first states to have laws prohibiting illegal housing discrimination and continues to be ahead of federal law by interpreting federal fair housing law more broadly (for example, our definition of person with a disability is broader than federal law and our guideline for occupancy standards is more generous. The federal guideline is two people per bedroom and California’s is two per bedroom plus one). We also have more so-called protected classes, or groups of people who are protected from being singled out and being treated differently. This includes marital status (whether people living together are married or not), sexual orientation, source of income (though this does not protect person who have Section 8 housing subsidies), or ‘arbitrary reasons’.
Still, there is constant tension between tenant advocates and landlord interests. California has a strong history of protecting tenants’ rights to fair treatment and a safe and habitable place to live. Major issues in this area have included tenant’s rights in foreclosed rental properties, landlord obligations with bedbug infestations, mold (or water intrusion), preservation of affordable housing (due to the expiration of federal or state subsidies or tax credits), and treatment of immigrants. There is a fairly new law that prohibits landlords or their representatives from asking about a renter or prospective renters immigration status. However, abuse is widespread. Abuse of immigrants in housing includes threats of calling ICE, substandard living conditions and violation of other legal protections such as providing a receipt for rent payments.
California has some greater protection for victims of predatory lending, but not much. Widespread predatory lending practices were clearly targeted to communities of color who have also been disproportionately hit by the foreclosure crisis. California has also attempted to address the rights of homeowners being foreclosed upon, encouraging to ‘stop and think’ and work with the homeowner to stay in their home. This has not worked. Neither have the efforts of the federal government.
CCRC Members Who Advocate and/or Litigate for Housing Rights:
- American Civil Liberties Union (Northern California)
- American Civil Liberties Union (Southern California)
- ACLU San Diego
- Asian Law Caucus
- Housing Rights, Inc.
- Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area
- Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute
- National Center for Lesbian Rights
- National Lawyers Guild, San Francisco Bay Area Chapter
- Public Advocates