What is Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination in housing is prohibited by California’s Unruh Civil Rights Act. The law is not limited to persons of a certain age, but instead protects homeseekers both young and old. For example, it is just as illegal for a property owner to state a preference for “young professionals” as it is for the same property owner to state a preference for an “older, mature tenant.”

It is not uncommon for an age-related policy to also violate other parts of the Fair Housing laws. It may be both age and disability discrimination for a property manager to choose not to rent to an 80-year-old man because of a fear that he is so old that he may die in the unit. A preference for students, which could be classified as arbitrary discrimination, may also be classified as age discrimination. Most students are within the 18-25 age range. Refusing to rent to or sell a home to a family with children would also be both familial status and age discrimination, as the denial is based solely on the age of household members. Note, however, that because California bans discrimination based on age, it is also illegal for a housing provider to prefer families with children. Families with and without children must be treated equally under state law.

Senior Housing Exemption

Senior housing is the one exception to both age and familial status discrimination. Senior housing is governed by both federal law and state law. On the federal level, there is the Housing for Older Persons Act (HOPA). Under HOPA, there are two types of senior properties — 62+ and 55+. A property is entitled to the 62+ exemption if all residents (except disability-related caregivers) are aged 62 years or older. For a property to meet the 55+ exemption, it must meet the following criteria: (1) 80% of units must be occupied by one person aged 55 or older; (2) the property must have age verification policies; and (3) the property must publish and adhere to policies that demonstrate its intent to provide senior housing.

California law is more restrictive than HOPA. Senior properties in California can only require that one person in the household be a senior (55 or 62 years of age or older). Additionally, every unit must a house a senior. In other words, it is generally not enough to have only 80% of all units occupied by at least one person over the age of 55. State law also requires senior properties to allow a senior to reside with (1) a spouse, domestic partner or person providing primary physical or economic support to the senior, who is also 45 years of age or older, and (2) a disabled child or grandchild of the senior, spouse or partner, who must live in the household due to disability. Mobile home parks and properties participating in federal programs do not have to comply with these extra conditions, and are exempt from the ban on age and familial status discrimination if they properly comply with federal law.

What Does Age Discrimination Look Like?

Age discrimination affects all ages, and may be evidenced by the following actions:

  • Limiting occupancy to adults, but not requiring that they be seniors
  • Having “adult only” areas at a complex
  • Preferring to sell or rent to young families
  • Requiring younger tenants to pay higher security deposits
  • Denying a mortgage to a senior because of his age
  • Refusing to make repairs for everyone but elderly tenants
  • Not allowing a spouse or disabled child to live with a qualified senior resident

Age Discrimination Resources