New laws target housing discrimination

Updated: Apr. 15, 2021 at 6:17 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Starting Friday, landlords and property owners will no longer be able to turn away potential tenants receiving government assistance.

More roofs overheads is the goal of the new protections under the Virginia Fair Housing Law.

Advocates say some landlords would steer tenants towards less desirable properties or even turn them away if they were receiving any sort of assistance.

The changes stop landlords from discriminating against potential tenants whose source of income may have come from things like social security insurance, disability benefits, child support, and all forms of government housing assistance.

“There were some landlords that were using some stereotypes and prejudices that just aren’t a reflection of a person’s true character or ability to pay,” said State Attorney General Mark Herring. “This is a really important protection that’s going to be good for those who are renting apartments, and it does also apply to purchasing a home.”

With guidance from the Virginia Real Estate Board, all property owners and landlords will be on notice of the new guidelines starting Friday.

Violations of the new laws include:

  • Charging higher rents, deposits, or other fees based on someone’s source of income
  • Refusing to rent, sell, or otherwise deny housing based on use of legal sources of income
  • Listings or advertisements that use phrases such as “No Section 8/No DSS/No SSI”
  • Refusing to include a household member’s social security income when calculating eligibility for an apartment
  • Steering a potential tenant to less desirable apartments upon learning that the tenant intends to pay with a rental assistance voucher
  • Insisting that a potential tenant provide proof of employment in order to apply for an apartment

“This should really empower voucher holders and anyone receiving assistance,” said Heather Crislip, President and CEO of Housing Opportunities Made Equal of Virginia.

Crislip says the non-profit conducted a one-month study in 2019 of all vacant apartments in the immediate area and found that for housing voucher-holders, their chances of being accepted as tenants were only 16% in Henrico County, 18% in Richmond and 33% in Chesterfield County.

She says that oftentimes, landlords simply chose not to deal with voucher-holders because the requirements around inspections proved to be burdensome, or that perhaps one landlord has had a bad experience with a voucher-holder and word got through the landlord community.

Crislip adds that the laws are a step in the right direction as more people seek assistance in the pandemic:

“I hope that it is a learning opportunity for landlords to realize that this is not a difficult thing to administer because there are going to be a lot more families with vouchers in the future.”

In his official announcement, Herring said, “Every Virginian has a right to a safe place to call home but for far too long, low-income individuals faced unnecessary barriers to safe, affordable housing simply because they have some assistance to pay their rent.”

He adds that if you believe you have a fair housing discrimination complaint, please reach out to his office at 804-225-2292, or the Virginia Fair Housing Office at 804-367-8530 or 888-551-3247.

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