Landlord denies application due to language barrier

11 Replies

Landlord denies application by saying one of the two adult applicants doesn't speak English well enough to enter into a legal contract. Landlord says translation is $500 and won't pay it and denies application. HUD is going after landlord for discrimination.

@Marcia Maynard What's your take?  Does the landlord have to foot the $500 bill for translation?  Or is that smoke and mirrors for discrimination? How and when does a landlord get to decide who does and who doesn't read/understand English well enough for a binding contract?  I know lots of native English speakers with limited reading and writing ability who sign contracts and leases.

Charge the prospective tenant the translation fee.  Remember that the house always wins, and the owner is the house.  This is a nebulous situation to me.  it doesn't pass the smell test.  This is why, when you put a property up for rent you always get multiple applications.  There is always a reason to accept any application over another, one has a higher income, one has a longer employment record, one has a stronger credit profile.  When I see that there is going to be a problem I weigh one of the other prospects higher than the problematic one.  

Another thing is that my lawyer has on each page in Spanish "If you can't read this document don't sign it" and I can't figure out how it takes 10 days to negotiate the lease.  This guy Edmunds needs some help.

Kristine Marie Poe

The landlord doesn't need a translator so much as an interpreter (someone like Marcia) to facilitate communication with the prospective tenants.

Here, while we are required to provide our lease and documentation only in English or French (the official languages), we cannot reject a candidate simple because s/he does not have a fluent command of either language.  Discriminating against someone based on their mother tongue is indistinguishable from discriminating against them based on national or ethnic origin.

At present we are processing an application from a young couple originally from South East Asia who limited command of English and do not speak French.  Tuesday we are meeting at the multi-cultural association with an interpreter to ensure there are no misunderstandings.

Wow that landord just opened a can of worms. To me it seems there would be so many other ways to avoid this confrontation by selecting painfully obvious legal ways to avoid renting. 

@Account Closed , thank you for posting this.  While we are all concerned about the problems with being a landlord we must follow the law.  Please let me know how this turns out if you can.  I am sure many of these things are settled prior to court so there may not be many opinions from courts floating around and there is often a different standard in each judicial district.  There were clearly some things done wrong by the landlord but some things appear to be bonafide as well.

The applicants should have to pay , what happens if you have 5 applicants , speaking 5 different languages .   in the article the landlord was concerned that the lease could be voided because of a claim of not understanding the lease due to the language barrier .

Does this mean you shouldnt rent to anyone who cant read , or is dumb as a rock . 

The problem I see is that the landlord was trying to force the applicants to pay for a translation that cost $500.  There's no need to pay for a translation that charges by the word.  All they need is to find someone who understands the contract to explain it to them - a translator.

And further along in the article, it says the son has a real estate license, so he must speak English and understand contracts.

The landlord was being a jerk and was using the supposed language barrier as a reason to deny a family that passed all of this criteria.  He deserves to be sued for discrimination.

I rented to applicants who did not have a great command of the English language.  You just tell them to get an interpreter.  Actually, you don't have to tell them to do that, because they just show up with one.

This article is not saying landlords have to pay a translation fee. It's saying this landlord was trying to charge a $500 translation fee, which is not allowed. This fee was the landlord's idea, not HUD's.

Originally posted by Kristine Marie Poe What's your take?  Does the landlord have to foot the $500 bill for translation?  Or is that smoke and mirrors for discrimination? How and when does a landlord get to decide who does and who doesn't read/understand English well enough for a binding contract?  I know lots of native English speakers with limited reading and writing ability who sign contracts and leases.

Certainly shows one of the ways people discriminate based on National Origin. As I see it, not only did the landlord present a "chilling effect" to the applicants by remarks he made, but he denied them based on his assumption that one of the parties would not be able to understand and enter into the legal contract necessary for renting the house.

It is not necessary to translate the lease/rental agreement into the native language of the person with LEP (limited English proficiency.) Depending on the literacy level of the individual, that may not even be beneficial. The goal should be to do what is necessary to ensure the tenant understands and abides by the terms of the lease/rental agreement. This can be achieved in many different ways that the landlord did not even begin to explore.

I'm with the family on this one. I think it is good case and HUD will prevail in demonstrating the landlord violated the Fair Housing Act on the basis of national origin.

When I managed the program for language and cultural support services at the hospital where I worked, we looked into whether we needed to provide written translations of documents requiring patient signatures for medical procedures and other services provided by the hospital. The answer was no, we did not. We did however need to do what we could to give the patient access to qualified interpretation services to assist as necessary, based on laws that are different than the ones used in Fair Housing. But our goal was always to focus on effective communication, not the means by which this is achieved.

Fair Housing does not require a lease/rental agreement to be translated into the preferred language of the renter. The debate about the written translations and the associated costs seems moot. Perhaps it is smoke and mirrors for discrimination. 

This story hits home for me on another level, because I am very close to the Lao Kmhmu community in Seattle. Lao Hmong (as is the family in the article), is one of the other tribes from Laos and similar in many ways to the Kmhmu people. I once went house hunting with my Kmhmu family and we were shown a number of houses for sale. The realtor made several derogatory remarks about their culture, such as "This house will be good enough for them because they're used to living in huts." He said this as an aside to me, but in front of the others in the family, assuming they didn't understand English. Afterwards, in the car while driving away, we had a passionate discussion about what we had just experienced. My best friend turned to me and with her limited English said... "That man is very rude!" Everyone very much understood what the realtor had said. We changed realtors and they bought a house from a realtor friend of mine who had immigrated to the U.S. from French speaking Quebec Canada and very much understood what it means to appreciate the language and cultural differences of others.

 Kristine Marie Poe I can't speak for other states but in our state (California) the landlord would not be required to pay for or provide a translated copy of the lease based on the facts in the story. This is covered in California's Civil Code, but is well summarized here:

(It's also worthwhile to note that only certain languages are covered in California's Civil Code, and Hmong is not one of them. Though if I was the landlord I would probably follow the required guidelines no matter which language was involved just to be safe and fair to everyone.)

One of our early tenants didn't speak English.  We paid to have the rental agreement translated into Spanish and used their elementary school aged to translate.  Huge waste of money since the agreement is a living changing document, and unfortunate we couldn't find an adult to translate.  But we muddled through and things went OK.

More recently we have had applicants bring in a bilingual friend to translate and kept the paperwork in English.  We have the friends contact info if we need to involve her again. They are able to phone when they have rent to pick up or have a problem, they have a translator on site when work needs to be done, and we mail them all of our correspondences and they comply.  It is working just fine.  They are some of our better tenants.

I´m from Cuba, so I speak Spanish. I have first hand experience with this. Landlords do not have to translate anything into Spanish or any other language. Another person who can serve as an interpreter works just fine. I don know why some people like to complicate things. What this landlord did is plain discrimination, that´s it.  

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