Court: Landlords don't have to reject gang members
By Julia Cheever
July 31, 2007
The California Supreme Court ruled in San Francisco Monday that
landlords don't have a legal duty to refuse to rent to gang members.
The court said that while gang violence is against public policy,
it would be "burdensome, dubiously effective and socially
questionable" to require landlords to screen for and reject
gang members as tenants.
Justice Kathryn Werdegar wrote that such a rule would be costly
for landlords and would likely result in unfair discrimination
against people who are suspected of being gang members but are
Werdegar wrote for the court, "To recognize such a duty
would tend to encourage arbitrary housing discrimination and would
place landlords in the untenable situation of facing potential
liability whichever choice they make about a prospective tenant."
The court ruled in an Imperial County Superior Court lawsuit
filed by Ernest Castaneda against the owners of a mobile home
park in El Centro, where Castaneda lived when he was shot and
injured at the age of 17 in a gang confrontation on Nov. 9, 1996.
Castaneda lived with his sister in their grandmother's mobile
home and was an innocent bystander in the early morning gunfire
during an argument between members of two gangs.
The state high court overturned an appeals court ruling that
had said Castaneda could proceed with a lawsuit against Winterland-Westways
mobile home park owners George and Paule Olsher.
The court said landlords could be held liable for accepting gang
members as new tenants only in exceptional circumstances "where
gang violence is extraordinarily foreseeable."
The court also said landlords have a duty to evict existing tenants
when violence is "highly foreseeable" - a slightly lower
standard than "extraordinarily foreseeable" - but said
the evidence in Castaneda's case didn't meet that standard.
Castaneda's attorney, Lowell Sutherland, said he was disappointed
in the ruling but said he didn't expect his client to appeal further
to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Sutherland said Castaneda is in constant pain from a bullet lodged
in his spine but is able to work, aiding his sister in a gymnastics
He said the man who shot Castaneda was later imprisoned after
being convicted in a different case, but was never charged in
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