What Is National Origin Discrimination?

National origin discrimination is closely related to race, color and religious discrimination. However, national origin refers to a person’s place of birth, ancestry, or ethnicity. For example, whether a person is Hispanic/Latino, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, or Filipino, would be their national origin. National origin discrimination includes treating people differently because of customs, culture, dress, and food associated with their country of origin. It also refers to someone’s language, including whether or not they speak English or have an accent. Actions based on stereotypes associated with particular national origins are also discriminatory.

Is It Legal to Discriminate Against Undocumented Immigrants?

First and foremost, in California, it is illegal for a private housing provider to even ask prospective tenants to prove that they are in the country legally. Housing providers may not require that a person provide a US-issued identification document, such as a driver’s license or visa. They must accept foreign-issued identification, such as Consular ID cards and passports. They also cannot require a Social Security number. Credit and background checks may be conducted with a name and a last known address.

Discrimination based on immigration status is considered a type of national origin discrimination because it is often linked with stereotypes about certain groups of immigrants. It is also a practice that unfairly impacts only those who are born outside the United States, or whose national origin is not American. It may also be considered discriminatory if a housing provider threatens to call Immigration Services on a group of tenants.

Do Housing Providers Have to Provide Translators when a Tenant Doesn’t Speak English?

Generally, a private housing provider has no obligation to provide a translator or translate documents into any language other than English. The one exception is that in California, if the lease is negotiated in a different language, it must be translated into that language.

Federally funded housing providers must provide oral translations, and, in certain circumstances, translate documents for tenants. Private housing providers have very different obligations. First, they must allow tenants to use translators. If a tenant brings a translator to help speak with management, then management must speak with the translator. Second, if the housing provider has a person on staff that speaks the tenant’s language, that person must be permitted to converse with the tenant in that language. For example, if there is a tenant who primarily speaks Spanish, and the landlord has an assistant manager who speaks Spanish, that assistant manager must be permitted to communicate with the tenant in Spanish.

Can a Tenant Be Banned from Cooking Certain Foods, Like Curry?

This is a very sensitive issue that comes up a lot in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Project Sentinel is located. A housing provider cannot refuse to rent to a tenant because he fears that the tenant will cook foods with distinct odors. He also generally cannot ban the tenant from cooking those foods in order to ward off a potential problem. That being said, there may come a time where cooking smells are so pervasive that they bother other tenants and therefore become a nuisance. Housing providers must treat cooking smells like any other odor that is causing a nuisance on the property. We recommend that housing providers work with tenants to come to a solution, such as figuring out a way to increase ventilation.

What Does National Origin Discrimination Look Like?

 National origin discrimination has a variety of faces. Keep your eyes and ears open for the following:

  • Questions about the types of food a tenant cooks
  • Refusals to rent to people with non-US identification
  • Owners who make repairs for one group of tenants, but not the other
  • Managers who won’t speak to a tenant’s translator
  • Inquiries about a tenant’s immigration status
  • Threats to call Immigration Services when a tenant complains
  • Comments related to stereotypes, such as telling an Asian person that he “can’t leave his shoes outside the door” when he hasn’t asked to do so
  • Blaming immigrants for pest problems
  • Telling tenants that “This is how we do things in this country”

National Origin Discrimination Resources

Government Resources
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