Illegal immigrants, undocumented workers, illegal aliens—whatever the chosen vocabulary, there are millions of people residing in the United States and California that fall into this category. Illegal immigrants live somewhere and with California’s notoriously high prices, renting is the only option for many. This raises questions for the landlord. Can you ask about immigration status? Do you have to rent to an illegal immigrant if you do not wish to? Are illegal immigrants reliable renters?
California law prohibits a “landlord or any agent of the landlord” from inquiring about the immigration or citizenship status (or compelling a statement about immigration or citizenship status) of a “tenant, prospective tenant, occupant, or prospective occupant of residential rental property”. That same section of code does allow the landlord to request information or documents in order to verify an applicant’s identity and/or financial qualifications.
Remember, illegal immigrants can receive driver’s licenses in California and it is illegal to discriminate in employment or housing because of the nature of a driver’s license. Asking for identification documents might turn up one of these driver’s licenses. The person will not have a Social Security number, making it more difficult to verify information and financial capability. However, credit screening companies can run a credit report without a Social Security number if they have information such as the Individual Tax Identification Number. Because of this the California Apartment Association (CAA) recommends not rejecting applications because they do not have a Social Security number. Rather, they recommend a credit report and allowing the applicant to submit other evidence of financial stability, such as payment history on monthly bills like utilities. If at this point the applicant does not demonstrate adequate financial qualifications, there is significantly less risk in denying the application (as opposed to immediately rejecting the application when it becomes evident the applicant is not a legal resident of the country).
Whatever your screening process for tenancy applicants, put it in writing and follow it consistently. If someone is turned away—whether they are a legal resident of the country or not—and evidence suggests that another person was not turned away despite similar qualifications or lack thereof, it could be viewed as unlawful discrimination. As we discussed in our article about renting to convicted criminals, it is lawful to conduct an “individualized assessment” to determine if an applicant will be accepted for tenancy; what is not permitted is using this process to circumvent policy in a discriminatory manner. To put it into context for this article, if strict financial standards are put in place to rent (which can have legitimate purpose), it would be risky to specifically use individualized assessments to allow only citizens or legal residents of the United States to rent from you in order to weed out illegal immigrant applicants.
The bottom line is if an individual meets all other requirements to rent from you, it is risky to turn them away. If the applicant does not provide a form of identification along with evidence of financial qualifications, they can be rejected without risk (after all, it does not matter where someone is from, if they cannot prove who they are then those financial qualifications only prove someone is qualified to rent). Without a genuine reason (think finances, certain types of criminal record, etc.), however, discriminating against illegal immigrants in the State of California is not an advisable practice.
As always, for questions or clarifications just leave a message in the comment section or reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org . We welcome your opinions.