Sunday, May 15, 2016

Non-Profit Fair Housing Agency Squeezes California City Out Of $299K, Forcing It To Tweak Rule Limiting Number Of Renters In Single Family Homes In Settlement Of Housing Discrimination Lawsuit

In Riverside County, California, The Press Enterprise reports:
  • Riverside has tweaked a rule that limits the number of renters in single-family homes and agreed to pay $299,000 to settle a lawsuit by the Fair Housing Council of Riverside County.(1)

    The city has long had a cap of four renters per home in single-family zoned areas. In 2013, the Riverside City Council made a new rule requiring homeowners to get a permit to rent to more than two people.

    The permit rule was a response to complaints from residents near UC Riverside about landlords adding extra bedrooms to pack homes with students, who weren’t always courteous neighbors.

    Fair Housing officials challenged the permit rule and four-renter limit in court in 2014, arguing that the rules were discriminatory and led some renters to be forced from their homes, restricted owners’ ability to rent their properties and barred some people – including single mothers and minorities – from living in the city’s most desirable neighborhoods.

    Fair Housing program manager Monica Lopez referred questions on the settlement to attorney Christopher Brancart, who could not be reached for comment this week.

    In the settlement, approved in March, the city did not admit liability but agreed to pay $299,000 to Fair Housing and seven individuals. City officials also changed its rules so that a group of renters functioning as a “single housekeeping unit” would not need a permit or have to abide by the four-renter cap, Riverside Deputy City Attorney Rahman Gerrin said.

    The city’s municipal code describes a single housekeeping unit as a household in which all members can use common areas such as a kitchen and living room, members share expenses, chores and other responsibilities. If they are renters, all household members must have a single lease to be considered a single housekeeping unit.

    The change creates an exception to the four-renter limit for single-family homes, but Gerrin said the cap would likely still apply in many cases. If people are simply renting rooms in a house, they wouldn’t necessarily be considered a single unit, and college students who rent homes may sign separate leases because “who wants to be the one on the hook” if a roommate can’t make their rent payment, he said.

    Michael Beaumier, one of the suit’s plaintiffs, disagreed with Gerrin.

    “Every shared living situation I’ve ever been in was under one lease,” he said.

    Beaumier, who is months from earning his PhD in physics from UCR, joined the lawsuit after the city threatened him and his four roommates with fines for violating the four-renter cap. One roommate agreed to move out and the others negotiated a lower rent with the landlord, because they couldn’t afford to split five shares of rent four ways, he said.

    Beaumier said he and his roommates would qualify as a single housekeeping unit because they have one lease and share chores and bills. He got some money in the settlement, he said, but his “only interest in the case was to get the amendment” to the rules.

    Last summer, in response to residents’ complaints about crowded rental homes, the city created special zoning that sets a ratio for the square footage of bedrooms versus common living areas in single family homes. The goal was to discourage landlords from adding bedrooms by simply carving up living and dining rooms, which was one of the issues homeowners were complaining about when the city created the renter permits.
Source: City settles Fair Housing suit (Riverside will pay $299,000 to plaintiffs who alleged a renter limit, permit rules were discriminatory).
(1) The Fair Housing Council of Riverside County, Inc. is a private, non-profit, HUD-approved advocacy organization that, among other things, promotes the enforcement of laws prohibiting unlawful housing practices and discrimination.