Federal, State, and local laws forbid discrimination in the housing market on the basis of protected characteristics, such as race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, familial status, disability, and source of income. California Civil Code section 1942.5 also prohibits, for a period of six months, retaliation against tenants who have notified their landlord or an appropriate agency of a code violation in their unit.
Tenants may assert these prohibitions against discrimination or retaliation as an argument against the validity of an eviction action. However, eviction proceedings are designed to be expedited proceedings, and the defenses that tenants are allowed to raise in these proceedings are limited. Additionally, due to the abbreviated nature of eviction proceedings, the opportunity that tenants have to raise and present evidence for these limited defenses, including discrimination and retaliatory eviction, are similarly narrow and may not allow for thorough consideration of such defenses. Since tenants must establish a landlord’s intent to discriminate or retaliate within that framework, defenses that rely on arguments of discrimination or retaliation are difficult to prove and thus may be rarely successful. Additionally, raising a defense like discrimination or retaliation in an unsuccessful eviction defense may preclude a tenant from bringing those claims in a civil suit, where procedures allow for a more thorough investigation of those claims.
Requiring landlords to provide a just cause for eviction in the original notice to the tenant creates a clear framework for both landlords and tenants for eviction proceedings, and may provide a platform for misunderstandings to be better resolved. Under just cause, tenants experiencing an eviction inspired by retaliatory or discriminatory intent would not need to prove the intent of their landlord during the eviction proceedings. Instead, the eviction hearing need only to evaluate whether or not the landlord demonstrated a documented just cause for the eviction.