Discrimination in Single Room Occupancies (SRO's)

Hotel and motel guests, residential hotel guests, single lodgers, and residents of transitional housing have some legal rights when living in Single Room Occupancy (SRO’s) situations.1 SRO’s are multiple-tenant residences that house people in single rooms, with tenants sharing bathrooms and kitchens. In California, SRO’s are governed by state law and the same regulations apply to these residences as they do to standard tenancies. Written notice by either party is required to terminate occupancy.2 However, the law does give law enforcement agencies the authority to arrest hold-over lodgers after proper notice of termination of occupancy has been given.3

The Unruh Civil Rights Act provides further protection for transgender people in California SRO’s. The Act ensures that “all persons within the jurisdiction of [California] are free and equal, and no matter what their sex, race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, disability, medical condition, marital status, or sexual orientation are entitled to the full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities, privileges, or services in all business establishments of every kind whatsoever.”4 While FEHA alone is broad enough to protect people in any type of rental or real property purchase situation, Unruh's scope can reach just slightly further, as it protects transgender people in all business accommodations, including hotels and SRO’s.5 A transgender person can argue a violation of Unruh based on disability and sex, as transgender people are not expressly excluded from either definition and are included by statute (AB 196) under discrimination based on sex.

Although the Unruh Civil Rights Act originally required a violation based on disability to be intentional in order to be actionable, this was changed with amendments to Unruh in 1992 which brought it in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).6 The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that a plaintiff does not need to show intentional discrimination in order to prove a violation of Unruh if the discrimination would violate the ADA.7 However, claims brought under Unruh based on sex must still show intentional discrimination.

A common occurrence with SRO’s is when landlords tell tenants to move just before they complete thirty days as residents. This critical time marker represents the threshold between “visitors” and “tenants,” and more strict regulations attach to landlords after the occupants become tenants. A landlord may be subject to civil penalties for requiring an individual living in an SRO to move before this thirty-day deadline simply to avoid the attachment of additional tenant rights.8

Visitors to SRO's
In San Francisco, guests and occupants of SRO housing are allowed a maximum of two daytime visitors at a time per room, with no limit as to how many guests they have each day, week, or month. Daytime visitors are allowed only from 9 am to 9 pm. Each guest and occupant who has lived in a room for at least thirty-two days are allowed a maximum of eight overnight guests each month, but are limited to 1 guest per room per night. Both daytime and overnight guests must show some form of identification. While the law does not explicitly address what happens if the visitors’ identity does not match his or her identification, it is clear California law does prohibit discrimination in housing and public accommodations based on gender identity. In San Francisco, any time a tenant’s visitor is excluded from the SRO, written notice must be delivered to the tenant after the fact with the visitor’s name and the reason for the exclusion.9

  1. See Who is a ‘Landlord’ And Who is a ‘Tenant’, California Department of Consumer Affairs. Last visited June 4, 2013; see also Cal. Civ. Code, § 1940(b), 1940.1. 

  2. Cal. Civ. Code, § 1946.5. 

  3. Cal. Pen. Code, § 602.3. 

  4. Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(b). 

  5. See Piluso v. Spencer, 36 Cal. App. 416, 421 (1918). 

  6. Cal. Civ. Code, § 51(f). 

  7. Lentini v. Cal. Ctr. for the Arts, 370 F.3d 837, 846 (9th Cir. 2004); Davis v. Patel, No. 11-55908, U.S. App. LEXIS 2502, at *3 (9th Cir. Feb. 5, 2013). 

  8. Cal. Civ. Code, § 1940.1. 

  9. Uniform Hotel Visitor Policy, City and County of San Francisco Rent Stabilization and Arbitration Board, Amended Mar. 30, 2010. Last visited June 4, 2013.