What to do about an unethical Realtor

Posted: July 20th, 2018 | Ask Kathy, Business, Columns, Featured | No Comments

By Kathy McSherry | Ask Kathy


My husband and I are relocating from Scranton, Pennsylvania and have three rambunctious children. I came out to San Diego to look for a rental for us while we get familiar with communities, analyze schools and traffic, and proximity to our work, etc. Last weekend, I went to a rental home after taking my children to lunch, and an already long morning.

Before I entered this home, I heard the landlord telling a young couple to go online to fill out an application and he would get back to them for this unit. However, when I came into the home and my children were loud and running to see the backyard, I was met with a somewhat stern and disappointed landlord. He was rather curt and when I asked him about the application process he clearly told me that it had already been rented. He then suggested that if I were to look in Clairemont, I would be happier as many people with young children live there. I was embarrassed and outraged as I know it was due to me having three children. How would you handle this?

—Cindy K.

Hi Cindy:

July is the month of Pride in San Diego, where we celebrate diversity and welcome everyone, so this question could not be more appropriate. First, I am sorry to hear that you felt discriminated against due to having young children. The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and its amendments of 1988 strictly prohibit discrimination against seven protected classes. They are race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability, and familial status. In addition, a landlord may not falsely deny that a rental property is available. It would also be unlawful to quote you a different rent or deposit based on any of these discriminations. The conversation that you mentioned about suggesting that you may like Clairemont better, or a different neighborhood because there are more families there, is also unlawful.

These laws are in place for fair practices and are administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development or HUD. There are both federal and state laws which apply to housing. Discrimination falls under the Fair Housing Act which is a federal law and applies in all states. Occupancy, for instance, falls under both federal and state laws. Federal occupancy law allows for two persons per bedroom, but a state law could allow more depending on different circumstances. If you think that you were treated unfairly you can register a full complaint with HUD. You can go to their website at where you can download a form and email them, or you can call them at 1-800-669-9777.

In your case, the landlord cannot deny you the application process and/or lie about the status of the rental due to you having children under 18. This would be considered discrimination based on your familial status. The second violation by this landlord is called steering. Steering happened when he suggested for you and your family to live in a certain neighborhood based upon other families like yourself with children. Complaints are taken very seriously with HUD and an investigation will be done. You can also seek the advice of a discrimination attorney. If a judge were to find, after a hearing, that discrimination took place, he may award damages to a complainant, or he may order some form of equitable relief as well as payment of attorney fees. Remember that discrimination applies to all aspects of housing both for renting and/or buying and selling of homes, getting a mortgage, getting home insurance, and many other housing-related areas.

Kathy McSherry

Cindy, I would hate for you to think that San Diego is unwelcoming in any way. We are America’s Finest City for a reason. One of the main reasons I love living here are the people. We have many different cultures, and we are rich with diversity. And, our city offers thousands of opportunities that your children and entire family can enjoy. Best of luck on your search and welcome to San Diego!

—Kathy McSherry is a Realtor at Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage. Email your questions to, or call 702-328-9905.

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