We all know it’s illegal to deny housing to a person on the basis of their race or religion. But there are a lot of less-obvious situations that also violate the fair housing laws.

A single mother of two young sons (we’ll call her Liz) rented a second-floor apartment in Santa Monica. One day she heard the mailman downstairs so she walked outside to the landing, waved at her sons who were down playing in the courtyard, and then headed toward her mailbox. Liz’s sons had their toy tractors out and were playing “farm” with another child in the complex’s well-protected courtyard. Liz didn’t know what she would do without the courtyard. Her sons loved playing outside – an activity scientific studies show they need – but she didn’t have time to take them to the park.

In her mail, Liz saw that the property management company had sent her a notice. Since it wasn’t rent collection time, she unfolded the notice with some dread. Then she read it: a 30-day notice saying that from then on, no children could play, loiter, or otherwise be left alone in the common areas of the complex – including the courtyard. The notice said that the kids’ noise was bothering other residents.

Liz wasn’t sure what her rights were. So she called the Santa Monica City Attorney’s Office. She eventually filed a fair housing complaint with the City Attorney’s Consumer Protection Division.

The Consumer Protection Division enforces the fair housing laws in Santa Monica. Those laws protect housing applicants and tenants from discrimination – meaning that landlords and managers can’t treat people differently based on their race, religion, age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, or on many other bases.

The main exception is that housing providers must treat persons with disabilities differently to the extent they need accommodations or modifications to have equal enjoyment of their home.

Here in Santa Monica, most fair housing complaints come from tenants with disabilities who were denied accommodations or modifications they needed because of their disabilities. (This topic will be covered in a later column.) The next most frequent type of fair housing complaint comes from families with children. Some Santa Monica landlords are still hesitant to rent to anyone with children, even though denying housing on this basis is illegal. Or, like Liz’s landlord, they have rules that prohibit children’s equal use of the complex.

Like a rule barring any protected group from equal enjoyment of the property, the no-children rule violated the fair housing laws. On this basis, the Consumer Division was able to persuade the management company to rescind the rule.

Tenants or housing applicants who think they were treated differently because of their race, disability, age, religion, or any other legal classification, should contact the Consumer Protection Division. We also welcome calls from owners who want to do the right thing, or just to know what the law requires. For more information, contact us at smconsumer.org or (310) 458-8336.