In most states and cities, it is legal to deny Section 8 vouchers as a form of income. However, it is important to ensure that this policy is applied equally to all potential tenants and does not discriminate against any protected classes under fair housing laws. Landlords can also engage with local housing authorities to set Section 8 voucher acceptance policies.
In this guide, we will explain to landlords how they can legally turn down Section 8 tenants while not infringing on fair housing laws.
Understanding the Fair Housing Act and Source of Income Discrimination
The Fair Housing Act is a federal law that prohibits discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of certain protected classes. These protected classes include race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, and disability.
Source of income discrimination occurs when a landlord refuses to rent to an applicant based on their sources of income, such as Section 8 vouchers, social security, or other government benefits. This form of discrimination can be especially harmful to low-income individuals who rely on these sources of income to pay for housing.
Under the Fair Housing Act, source of income discrimination is considered a form of discrimination based on a person’s “familial status,” since families with children and other dependents are more likely to rely on government assistance. This means that landlords cannot legally deny housing to someone based on their source of income.
Legal Reasons for Denying Section 8 Applicants
Landlords may assess tenants and choose the best fit for their property. To avoid Fair Housing breaches, landlords must follow legal justifications for dismissing Section 8 applicants. This section discusses the legal arguments landlords can use to deny Section 8 applications and how they can be used to promote justice and legality.
1. Credit History
Landlords can evaluate applicants’ credit histories while renting. Missed payments or bankruptcy can indicate that an applicant is financially irresponsible or has trouble paying rent. However, this criterion must be used similarly to all candidates, regardless of income. It’s also crucial to understand that a bad credit score doesn’t necessarily equal a bad tenant. Thus, landlords should weigh credit history among other factors.
2. Criminal History
Landlords must follow Fair Housing regulations when evaluating Section 8 applicants’ criminal records. Landlords can deny applicants with criminal histories that endanger other tenants or the property, but they must examine the sort of crime and how recently it occurred.
refusing an applicant with a violent felony background may be justified, but refusing an applicant with a non-violent drug charge from years ago may not. Landlords should also assess if the applicant has rehabilitated and behaved since the offense. The applicant’s criminal background should determine whether they’ll be a troublesome tenant.
3. Rental History
Landlords might consider Section 8 applicants’ rental history when renting. Evictions or late rent payments may indicate a bad renter. Landlords must apply this criterion similarly to all applicants, regardless of wealth. Owners can also take into account job loss or personal troubles that may have contributed to a poor rental history. One of the many aspects that landlords should evaluate is rental history.
4. Insufficient Income
Landlords can deny Section 8 applicants if they do not meet the income requirements necessary to afford the rental property. This criterion must be applied uniformly to all applicants, regardless of the source of income.
It is important to note that landlords must apply these criteria consistently and uniformly to all applicants, regardless of their source of income. Discrimination against Section 8 applicants is illegal under the Fair Housing Act and can result in legal consequences.
Developing Non-Discriminatory Tenant Screening Criteria
Having clear and non-discriminatory tenant screening criteria is crucial for landlords to ensure that they comply with Fair Housing laws and avoid legal issues. Discriminatory screening criteria can result in unintentional discrimination and violate Fair Housing laws.
First, landlords must establish objective, uniform, and non-discriminatory tenant screening criteria. Consider the applicant’s ability to pay rent, maintain the property, and satisfy genuine business demands. Credit, income, rental history, criminal background, and landlord/employer references are objective factors. Landlords should not assume based on stereotypes or protected classes including race, gender, disability, and family status.
It’s important to ensure that the screening process is fair and consistent for all applicants. This means using the same screening criteria for all applicants and not making exceptions based on personal relationships, preferences, or biases.
Providing Reasonable Accommodations for Disabled Section 8 Applicants
Disabled applicants must receive appropriate accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. Reasonable accommodations allow disabled people equitable housing access. The applicant must need these accommodations to properly appreciate the rental property.
Disabled Section 8 applicants may be allowed a service animal, a reserved parking space, grab bars or handrails, or a live-in carer. These adjustments can help disabled people live freely and enjoy their homes. Landlords must make reasonable modifications unless it would cause an undue financial or administrative hardship, fundamentally change the housing provider’s operations, or endanger others.
Communicating with Section 8 Applicants
When communicating with Section 8 applicants, it’s important for landlords to do so in a non-discriminatory way to avoid violating Fair Housing laws. Here are some tips for communicating with Section 8 applicants:
- Don’t ask about the applicant’s source of income until after they have been screened and deemed eligible. Asking about a person’s income before evaluating them may lead to discriminatory screening based on money rather than objective screening criteria.
- Disclose your screening criteria. Give candidates clear and consistent information about the screening process, criteria, and decision timeline. This reduces confusion and suspicion.
- Avoid stereotyping Section 8 applicants. Apply your screening criteria to all candidates regardless of income.
- Answer Section 8 questions legally. If a tenant asks if you take Section 8 vouchers, you can explain, “We welcome Section 8 applicants, but we also have other screening criteria.” This reaction is fair and non-discriminatory.
- Document Section 8 applicant communications. For Fair Housing compliance, record all phone calls, emails, and in-person conversations.
By following these guidelines, landlords can communicate with Section 8 applicants in a non-discriminatory way and ensure compliance with Fair Housing laws.
In conclusion, adhering to the legal reasons for denying Section 8 applicants is crucial for landlords to avoid Fair Housing violations while still maintaining control over their rental properties. Landlords must understand their legal obligations under the Fair Housing Act and develop clear and non-discriminatory screening criteria to ensure that all applicants are treated fairly.
Furthermore, providing reasonable accommodations for disabled Section 8 applicants and communicating with all applicants in a non-discriminatory manner is essential to promote fairness and compliance with the law. By following these guidelines, landlords can protect themselves from legal consequences and promote equal opportunity for all renters.