Effective August 1, 2019, in the City of San Diego, at least, it is illegal for landlords to discriminate
against a tenant, or prospective tenant, based on their source of income. (See, San Diego Municipal
Code section 98.0801, et seq.) We have recently seen plaintiffs filing lawsuits against unsuspecting
landlords who put in their Zillow or Craig’s List ads, “No Section 8.” While that may have been legal
before, it no longer is and comes with potentially significant monetary consequences.
Under the new law, a landlord may not do any of the following based on a person’s source of income:
• Refuse to rent to a potential tenant or renew a rental agreement;
• Terminate a tenancy;
• Falsely represent that a rental unit is not available to rent;
• Include any condition or restriction in a rental agreement;
• Restrict a tenant’s access to facilities or services or refuse repairs or improvements.
Landlords may not advertise using any form of discrimination based on source of income. Not only is
it illegal to use language such as “No Section 8,” the financial standard a landlord uses to evaluate a
new tenant or renew a tenancy must include all sources of income that are lawful, verifiable, including
rental assistance programs such as Section 8 vouchers.
An exception to the ordinance is where the residence owner resides in the building and shares a
bathroom or kitchen with the tenant. Therefore, owners who rent out a room in their own home are
exempt. However, owners who rent out the other half of their duplex, rent out their granny flat, or
live in one unit of a multi-unit building may not discriminate based on source of income.
Penalties for violating this ordinance are potentially significant. A person who has been discriminated
against may file a lawsuit or seek an injunction against the landlord. If found in violation, a court shall
award monetary damages in an amount three times the monthly rental for the unit or advertised
amount. The court may also award punitive damages, attorney fees, and legal costs.
Landlords should stay current with the legal requirements for renting units. The cost of this education
is minor compared to the alternative.
Robert Muir is a real estate attorney in San Diego, long time member of SDAR’s Risk Management Committee, and represents agents, buyers and sellers in transactions and litigation. He can be reached at muirlaw.com.