Must I Accept Section 8 Vouchers?
Landlord: “The first person to respond to my property-for-rent notice was someone with a Section 8 Voucher. I have never signed up to accept Section 8 vouchers. Do I have to sign up just because someone with a voucher wants to rent from me?” The answer is, ‘it depends’.
Here’s the scoop as best as we can figure it out at this time.
- Some states have made it mandatory that landlords do whatever is necessary to not discriminate against otherwise qualified buyers simply because they come with Section 8 vouchers.
- Some counties and cities have made it mandatory even though their state law has not demanded acceptance. It is possible that in the same county one city will require accepting Section 8 vouchers while the next city over does not.
Why are many cities, counties, and even states making this a requirement?
- Housing Need - there are more people needing housing assistance than there are properties that will take folks with Section 8 vouchers.
- The Poor, Elderly, and Disabled - various laws have had to be enacted over the last century in order to protect the weakest among us. The Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) was first established in 1937 to subsidize the rent of those who needed help in order to have housing. Qualifying to receive these vouchers was not made mandatory, which allowed landlords to reject voucher holders simply because they were voucher holders, on the grounds that they were not qualified to receive their vouchers. It has been argued that this is discrimination.
- Federal Law - guarantee the rights promised in the 14th amendment: ‘no state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In other words, to reject someone from renting your property simply because they receive government assistance would be discriminatory, based on this amendment.
- Other Laws - The Fair Housing Act (FHA) enacted in 1968 and the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) enacted in 1974, were designed to fight racial segregation in housing and to make housing more affordable to the poor. There are more than 2 million people in this program. They have the money, but can’t always find the housing. The choices are that the government uses more tax money to build government housing projects or the government insists that landlords accept housing vouchers. Either way, the government is tasked with 14th amendment responsibilities to all citizens.
What about my rights as a landlord?
- What about ‘my’ liberty? - When either the state or its counties and towns are permitted to deprive the landlord of his ‘liberty’ to rent his/her property to anyone of his/her choosing, isn’t that also against the 14th amendment? While we are not constitutional lawyers, we’ve read the arguments on both sides. What many states, counties, and cities are attempting to do is to find a win-win solution - one that fulfills ‘all’ aspects of this amendment for both landlord and potential tenant.
- What about my financial risks? - The laws are still a work in progress in that not all contingencies are foreseen, requiring adaptation of laws as we move forward. Yet, at this time, in the places where it is illegal to reject a potential tenant based on their status as a Section 8 voucher holder, the landlord may still disqualify the applicant based on their poor credit, criminal history, past evictions, etc. In other words, landlords are not being forced to accept any Section 8 voucher holder regardless of their qualifications. That protects the landlords ‘liberty’ and well as the potential tenants right not to be deprived of property. Thus, both landlord and tenant receive ‘equal protection under the law’.
- How should landlords move forward? - It has always been essential that landlords, as citizens under the constitution of our country, not discriminate against other citizens. If discrimination has been your way of life, as a landlord you will have to change or face rather nasty consequences. Your concern should not be about race, religions, ethnicity, age, etc. Nor should it be about who effectively ‘co-signs’ the rent documents. Your concern should be whether or not there is an ability to pay on time.
- Can I refuse to take a tenant with a Section 8 voucher? In many places, the answer still remains ‘yes’. You are not forced to accept a Section 8 voucher which would require you to meet Federal standards. But be careful about two things: (1) Don’t refuse the Section 8 voucher based on race, ethnicity, gender, disability, children, etc. To do so will, if made obvious, will come with dire consequences. (2) Don’t refuse a Section 8 voucher holding applicant in cities, counties, or states where it is required to accept it if the prospective tenant qualifies in every other way.
What should I be watchful for in my state?
- State Supreme Court Rulings - when a state supreme court rules that a landlord may not discriminate against a prospective tenant simply due to their source(s) of income, then expect to be required to accept Section 8 vouchers sooner or later.
- Tax Credit Properties - if you own rental property that utilized Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding, you cannot discriminate based on the fact that a prospective tenant is a Section 8 voucher holder.
In Summary This is an important topic that will be discussed in the courts at all levels for some time. Each landlord is best served by being aware of what is happening in their city, county, state, and at the federal level on this issue. Other than keeping abreast of what is happening legally, each landlord would be well served to be familiar with the Section 8 rules and regulations and begin to conform their properties to the Federal requirements whether or not required to do so. It will be less painful to have worked in this direction little by little than to wait until the last minute. Why, because I think we are headed in this direction.
** As in each of our articles, we do not claim to be property attorneys. We ‘always’ recommend that you seek out the best authority in your particular city, county, and/or state for up-to-date information. This is one of those topics where things are rapidly changing.